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New Series 

Volume 1, Number 1 

Fall 1993 

Published by The Thoreau Society, Inc. 


(ISSN 1068-5359) 

Published by The Thoreau Society, Inc. 

Original Series, Volumes 1-20, 1966-1988 
New Series Begun Fall 1993 


Ronald Wesley Hoag 

Advisory Editors 

Thomas Blanding Bradley P. Dean Joel Myerson 

Editorial Assistants 

Burt Aycock Lois Redmond 

The front-cover drawing of Thoreau 's Walden Pond cabin was executed by Henry's 
sister Sophia; it accompanied the first printing of Walden in 1854. The passage 
about sauntering is from Thoreau ' s "Walking" manuscript. The likeness of Thoreau 
on the back cover is from an 1856 Benjamin D. Maxham daguerreotype, owned by 
the Thoreau Society and housed in its archives at the Concord Free Public Library. 

THE CONCORD SAUNTERER, an annual publication of The Thoreau Society, 
Inc., seeks biographical, historical, textual, bibliographical, and interpretive articles 
relating to Henry Thoreau and his associates, Concord, and Transcendentalism. 
Submissions of all lengths are invited; shorter pieces not used will also be 
considered for the quarterly THOREAU SOCIETY BULLETIN, edited by Bradley 
P. Dean. Contributions should conform to The Chicago Manual of Style for endnote 
documentation. Send two copies plus SASE to the Editor, THE CONCORD 
SAUNTERER, Department of English, East Carolina University, Greenville, 
North Carolina 27858-4353. Decisions are reported within three months. Subscrip- 
tion to THE CONCORD SAUNTERER is by membership in the society; see the 
back cover for additional information. THE CONCORD SAUNTERER is indexed 
in the MLA International Bibliography. 


N.S. Volume 1 Fall 1993 Number 1 

Editor s Page 1 

Robert D. Richardson, Jr. 

The Stalk of the Lotus: 3 

Concord s Most Famous Friendship 

Wesley T. Mott 

"Captain of a Huckleberry Party" : 1 3 

Thoreau and a New England Ritual of Summer 

Guy R. Woodall 

Convers Francis and the Concordians: 23 

Emerson, Alcott, and Others 

Joel Lang 

Forever Wild: 61 

A Portrait ofWalden Warrior Mary Sherwood 

Joan Goodwin 

Sarah Alden Ripley, Another Concord Botanist 11 

Harmon Smith 

Ellery Channing: The Turning Point 89 

Notes on Contributors 95 

Copyright 1993© by The Thoreau Society, Inc. 

Editor* s Page 

We're back. After an interruption of several years, during which the 
human and financial resources of the Thoreau Society were necessarily spent in 
other ways, including the staging of an ambitious and successful 50th Anniversary 
Jubilee in 1991, THE CONCORD SAUNTERER resumes publication with a new 
series of annual editions — bigger and, we trust, at least as good as ever. The 
society's administrative, membership, and publications center is now located in the 
English Department of East Carolina University, where the editors of this journal 
and THE THOREAU SOCIETY BULLETIN are faculty members. We are grateful 
to ECU for providing office space, graduate student assistants, word-processing 
equipment, bulk mailing privileges, and a highly advantageous arrangement with 
the university print shop. As always, the spiritual center of the society is Concord, 
Henry Thoreau 's "most estimable place in all the world" and the present-day home 
of both the Thoreau Lyceum, with its year-round educational enterprises, and the 
annual July convention of the Thoreau Society, a ritual homecoming with the 
surprisingly harmonious flavors of an academic conference, a church-of-nature 
social, and a family reunion. 

About those flavors. Since its inception more than a half-century ago, the 
Thoreau Society has been more than a scholarly association or a literary society. It 
has been, instead, an institution as deliberately diverse as the man it honors: author, 
ecologist, natural historian, surveyor, Transcendentalist, mystic, pencil-maker, 
surveyor, social reformer, spiritual economist, philosopher, and captain of many a 
huckleberry party — Henry David Thoreau. By inspiration and design, we are an 
eclectic, multicentric (some might even say eccentric) amalgamation of interests 
and personalities. As our principal journal, THE CONCORD SAUNTERER 
should reflect this vital diversity. On the one hand, many of our members are 
academics, among them most of the top men and women in the field; indeed, our past 
presidents include a pantheon of Thoreau scholars, none more renowned than 
Founding Secretary Walter Harding. Because of this notable academic representa- 
tion in the society, our journal must uphold its earned reputation as a forum for 
significant scholarly work. On the other hand, because we are not just another 
scholarly association, THE CONCORD SAUNTERER must be more than just 
another scholarly journal. As incoming editor, I have a few ideas about how to 
interest and inform our spectrum of readers, but I need more. Suggestions for future 
articles are officially encouraged, and more so the articles themselves. See the 
inside cover for additional information. 

This issue of THE CONCORD SAUNTERER is paid for in part by 
donations from Frederick Wagner and Bradley P. Dean, whose generosity we 
gratefully acknowledge. The source of Dean's donation is royalties from his edited 
volume FAITH IN A SEED, the most recent publication of one Henry Thoreau, 
whose contribution to the field also deserves a mention. 


Ralph Waldo Emerson in the 1 850s 

I7te StaCf^of the Lotus: 

Concord's Most famous 


Robert D. Richardson, Jr. 

[Note:This talk, which was the featured presentation at the 1993 annual meeting of 
the Thoreau Society, is taken largely from a biography of Ralph Waldo Emerson to 
be published by the University of California Press in the fall of 1994. For 
documentation, readers are referred to the book. The author wishes to acknowledge 
particularly the recent work on Thoreau and Emerson by Robert Sattelmeyer and 
David Robinson.] 

Thoreau and Emerson became acquainted in 1837, when Emerson was 
thirty-four and Thoreau a twenty-year-old senior at college. In April, Thoreau read 
Nature', in June he read it again. That same month Emerson was writing Harvard 
President Quincy to plead Thoreau 's case for honors. Shortly after graduation late 
in summer of 1837, about the time he began a short-lived teaching job with the 
Concord Public Schools, Thoreau also began a journal, apparently at Emerson's 
urging. Emerson's first journal entry about Thoreau comes in February 1838. 
Already Thoreau was holding his own with much older men. When Edmund 
Hosmer suddenly backed away, in the middle of a conversation, from equating Jesus 
with a human mind, he altered his tone and announced gravely that "Jesus made the 
world, and was the eternal God." Thoreau remarked that "Mr. Hosmer had kicked 
the pail over." Emerson delighted in his young friend; he noted how "every thing 
that boy says makes merry with society." He approved of Thoreau's being, as he 
said, "spiced through with rebellion." The two of them went for a walk in late April 
to the Cliff, a high spot with a spectacular view over the Sudbury River valley; it was, 
wrote Emerson, "warm, pleasant, misty weather which the great mountain 
amphitheatre seemd to drink in with gladness. A crow's voice filled all the motes 
of air with sound." 

THE CONCORD SAUNTERER, N.S. Volume 1, Number 1, Fall 1993 

4 Concord Saunterer 

They were alike in many ways. Thoreau at twenty was of medium height, 
with sloping shoulders. He moved with unusual energy. He walked with his eyes on 
the ground, watching for leaves, flowers, and arrowheads. He had, like Emerson, a 
large nose. Also like Emerson, his most remarkable feature was his eyes, which 
were large, deep set, and alive with intelligence. The relations between them were 
close, changeable, and beset with difficulties. Thoreau was neither son nor brother 
to Emerson, but was something of each. He came to have a special place in the 
Emerson family. He adored Lidian, writing her extravagant, moonstruck letters that 
look very much like love-letters. Thoreau also loved the Emerson children and was 
loved in return by them. When Emerson was away for long trips, Thoreau came to 
stay and help out. When Emerson's mother died, Thoreau was delegated to take 
charge of Bulkeley, the feeble-minded brother, at the funeral. 

A visitor in 1852 named John Albee has left the best description of how 
Emerson and Thoreau got along together in public. Thoreau was already at 
Emerson's when Albee arrived. "He was much at home with Emerson: and as he 
remained through the afternoon and evening, and I left him still at the fire side, he 
appeared to me to belong in some way to the household." Emerson continually 
deferred to Thoreau, Albee recalled, "and seemed to anticipate his views, preparing 
himself obviously for a quiet laugh at Thoreau 's negative and biting criticisms, 
especially in regard to education and educational institutions. Albee had come to 
find out how to get the best kind of education. "Emerson pleaded always for the 
college; said he himself had entered at fourteen. This aroused the wrath of Thoreau, 
who would not allow any good to the college course. And here it seemed to me 
Emerson said things on purpose to draw Thoreau 's fire and to amuse himself. When 
the curriculum at Cambridge was alluded to, and Emerson casually remarked that 
most of the branches of learning were taught there, Thoreau seized one of his 
opportunities and replied ' Yes indeed, all the branches and none of the roots. ' At this 
Emerson laughted heartily." Albee noted that "in the evening Thoreau devoted 
himself wholly to the children and the parching of corn by the open fire." 

The Thoreau Emerson was seeing in the spring of 1838 was a young poet 
who was reading Goethe ' s Italian Journey, who found in Virgil confirmation for the 
idea that human nature is essentially the same in all times and places, and who was 
interested in crystal formation. He looked a little like Emerson, and people would 
say later that he came to have some of Emerson's speech mannerisms. He was a 
disciple who was incapable of fawning, or of uncritical admiration. He was brash, 
irreverent, rebellious and amusing. But he was a disciple. Emerson once wrote 
"Thoreau gives me, in flesh and blood and pertinaceous Saxon belief, my own 
ethics. He is far more real, and daily practically obeying them, than I; and fortifies 
my memory at all times with an affirmative experience which refuses to be set 

The Emerson Thoreau came to know in 1838 was still a young man 
himself, very much involved in the natural world and fond of walking. "If I go into 

Robert D. Richardson, Jr. 5 

the forest, I find all new and undescribed," Emerson wrote. "Nothing has been told 
me. The screaming of wild geese never heard; the thin note of the titmouse and his 
bold ignoring of the bystander; the fall of the flies that patter on the leaves like rain, 
the angry hiss of some bird that crepitated at me yesterday. The formation of 
turpentine and indeed any vegetation, any animation, any and all, are alike 
undescribed. Each man that goes into the wood seems to be the first man that ever 
went into a wood." With keen senses and an even keener sense of the transforma- 
tions of everyday life, Emerson had strange depths. "Come out of your warm 
angular house resounding with few voices into the chill grand instantaneous night," 
he wrote. "In the instant you leave far behind all human relation, wife, mother and 
child, and live only with the savages — water, air, light carbon, lime and granite. . 
. . I become a moist cold element. Nature grows over me. Frogs pipe; waters far off 
tinkle; dry leaves hiss; grass bends and rustles; and I have died out of the human 
world and come to feel a strange, cold, aqueous terraqueous, aerial etherial 
sympathy and existence. I sow the sun and moon for seeds." 

Best of all, Emerson believed, and could persuade others, that the world 
was indeed new for each person. "You think in your idle hours that there is literature, 
history, science, behind you so accumulated as to exhaust thought and prescribe 
your own future. ... In your sane hour you shall see that not a line has yet been 
written; that for all the poetry that is in the world your first sensation on entering a 
wood or standing on the shore of a lake has not been chaunted yet. It remains for you; 
so does all thought, all objects, all life remain unwritten still." Thoreau found in 
Emerson a person for whom ideas were as real as things. Thoreau once told a mutual 
friend that "he found in Emerson a world where truth existed with the same 
perfection as the objects he studied in external nature, his ideas real and exact as 
antennae or stamina." 

Thoreau got his start from Emerson, but became his own man. They shared 
many things, an interest in Concord, in nature, in walks, in Walden Pond. They were 
both modern stoics, interested in self-rule and autonomy. Both believed in the 
stability of human nature, the essential equivalence of all times and places, and in 
Kantian rather than in Lockean theories of mind. Both believed in the process of 
individuation and in the authority of conscience. Emerson's ideas on poetry, history, 
self-reliance, and friendship show up in Thoreau 's journals, and many of Thoreau 's 
subjects appear in Emerson's journals. It is sometimes impossible to say who took 
what from whom. Emerson was talking about "sauntering" just as he came to know 
Thoreau. Emerson owned land at Walden Pond, took almost daily walks there, and 
felt a sort of proprietary interest in the place. Shortly after Thoreau 's "Ktaadn" was 
published, Emerson returned to the theme of wildness. Not long after the first 
version of Walden was written, Emerson was meditating on the flowing sand in the 
railroad deep-cut. Thoreau' s late unfinished projects have analogies if not roots in 
Emerson. As early as 1835, Emerson thought he would write a "natural history of 
the woods around my shifting camp for every month of the year." Emerson also 

6 Concord Saunterer 

found (via the Quakers) a powerful metaphor in the dispersion of seeds. "George 
Fox's chosen expression of the God manifest in the mind is the seed. He means the 
seed of which the Beauty of the world is the flower and goodness the fruit." 

But, as time went by, their many similar subjects could not obscure the fact 
that the temper and grain of their minds were very different. What in Emerson was 
an interest in originality (meaning the power to originate — start-up energy) was in 
Thoreau an emphasis on the wildness which is the fundamental building block of 
everything, including civilization. Emerson's inclination to pacifism, as seen in his 
essay on "War," is quite at odds with the combativeness and the military spirit of 
Thoreau 's "The Service." Emerson was much less interested in the classics than 
Thoreau. Emerson was strongly affected by Plato, Marcus Aurelius, and Plutarch, 
but he was happy to use translations. To insist on reading books in the original, when 
translations were available, seemed to him perverse, like insisting on swimming 
across the Charles River every time he went to Boston, instead of taking a bridge. 
Emerson was much less scholarly than Thoreau, and not just in languages. Emerson 
came to detest conventional scholarship, mocking it as books written by the dead 
for the dead. Thoreau is not only more classical and more scholarly, but he is also 
more methodical, more interested in science, more committed to close observation. 
Emerson is more open emotionally, more social. He lived more in a world of strong 
friendships, and was increasingly at the center of a large family that had many claims 
on him. He was more deeply grounded in Christian thought and feeling. Thoreau 
preferred Aristotle, Emerson Plato. 

Emerson prepared the way for his own disappearance into his text. He 
wrote no memoir, he distrusted chronology, and aimed for the timeless. Thoreau 
wrote about himself and about his own excursions. Emerson did neither. His 
writings are distillations on different topics, deliberately detached from time and 
place, except through illustration, anecdote, imagery, and diction. Emerson was 
working for a completely different kind of expression than was Thoreau, though 
they had one important thing in common. Both were writing first-hand accounts of 
personal experience, not what they knew of others' opinions, not commentary. 
Thoreau went in for narrative, Emerson for epiphany. Emerson' s great literary form 
was the sentence. "I am a rocket manufacturer," he said of his own work. Emerson 
made his topical and abstract essays live by metaphor, anecdote, and other narrative 
devices. Thoreau gave his narratives depth and resonance by making them include 
and encapsulate moments of epiphany. Both were only fair-to-middling as letter 
writers, but splendid as journal writers. Both had very elaborate notebook systems 
for keeping track of material and for treasuring up their moments of illumination and 
insight. Both were capable of living with astonishing intensity for months at a 
stretch, though Emerson seems to have had more great moments, more experiences 
of pure "contact," to use Thoreau 's word for his great moment on top of Mt. 

Robert D. Richardson, Jr. 7 

Both Emerson and Thoreau used the figure of Apollo for personal 
symbolism. Both understood that the Apollonian spirit loves clarity and form, and 
so is obliged to keep its distance; the Apollonian spirit dislikes "whatever is too near, 
entanglement in things, the melting gaze, and equally, soulful merging, mystical 
inebriation and its ecstatic vision." The Apollonian spirit is "capable of looking on 
the world and existence as form, with a glance free alike of greed and of yearning 
for redemption." Thoreau thought of himself as the Apollo who was obliged to keep 
the sheep of King Admetis. Emerson was moved by the Apollo to whom Orestes 
comes pleading to be released from the Furies. Thoreau saw himself as superior 
brilliance forced, for his sins, to do unworthy labor. Emerson felt himself pursued 
by a steady stream of suppliants, each of whom wanted something from him, each 
one a further threat to his own hard-won self-possession. Both felt set apart from 
the ordinary, living for insight, aware always of the laws and forms that govern and 
drive process. Each was hungry for clarity, eager for form. And in the end, both men 
were cursed by the resulting, inevitable, unbridgeable need to stand apart. 

Emerson's return from England also marked the beginning of a serious rift 
between him and Henry Thoreau. Thoreau was now thirty-one. He had spent most 
of the past year in Emerson's house, taking Emerson's place in his own family. 
Thoreau was fond of the children — who adored him — and he was emotionally 
attached to Lidian, who was some sixteen years older than he was. He had written 
her lofty, ardent letters from New York a few years earlier, and his journals have 
passages that have led a number of people to believe he was, in some complicated 
and never quite fully acknowledged way, in love with her. "Others are of my 
kindred by blood or of my acquaintance but you are mine," Thoreau wrote in his 
journal for 1848-49 in what seems to be a reference to Lidian. "You are of me and 
I of you. I can not tell where I leave off and you begin, — there is such harmony when 
your sphere meets mine." Thoreau 's few letters to the absent Emerson this year are 
prickly and defensive. Thoreau was skeptical about English success, materialism, 
steam, speed, talk, and books, and he was contemptuous of Emerson's apparent 
relish for it all. 

Thoreau was writing a long piece on friendship just now, a piece that went 
into A Week On the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. "Friendship is evanescent in 
every man's experience, and remembered like heat lightning in past summers," he 
wrote. "All men are dreaming of it, and its drama, which is always a tragedy, is 
enacted daily." The essay, which fills thirty printed pages, is more about what is now 
called intimacy than about what is usually called friendship. The true friend, says 
Thoreau, addresses his friend like this: "I never asked thy leave to let me love 
thee, — I have a right. I love thee not as something private and personal, which is 
your own, but as something universal and worthy of love, which I have found. O 
how I think of you. . . . Consent only to be what you are. I alone will never stand 
in your way." The essay reads like an open letter, sometimes addressed to Lidian, 
sometimes to Emerson. It sets very high standards. Friends must meet on grounds 

8 Concord Saunterer 

of complete honesty. "Beware lest the friend learn at last to tolerate one frailty of 
thine, and so an obstacle be raised to the progress of thy love." 

The strained relationship seems to have broken open for Thoreau over the 
publication of A Week. Despite his and Emerson ' s efforts to get it published in 1 847 , 
it did not come out until 1849. It sold very badly and, what was worse, Emerson 
seems to have made some offhand criticism of its weaknesses. "I had a friend," 
Thoreau writes in his petulant past tense, "I wrote a book. I asked my friend's 
criticism, I never got but praise for what was good in it — my friend became 
estranged from me and then I got blame for all that was bad." Whatever the exact 
incident or exchange, Thoreau was stung by it. "While my friend was my friend he 
flattered me, and I never heard the truth from him, — but when he became my enemy 
he shot it to me on a poisoned arrow." 

The estrangement was more profound than just one incident. Thoreau had 
no sympathy for Emerson's new worldliness. He disapproved of his European 
travels; he seems to have enjoyed being in Emerson's home and he must have felt 
displaced when Emerson returned. Emerson was now equally out of sympathy with 
Thoreau 's renunciations and withdrawals. If Thoreau uses the strong language of 
enemy and poison, Emerson was equally damaging as he wrote about Thoreau in 
his journal. "I spoke of friendship, but friends and I are fishes in their habit. As for 
taking Thoreau 's arm, I should as soon take the arm of an elm tree." The trouble was 
more than undemonstrativeness. "Henry Thoreau is like the wood god who solicits 
the wandering poet and draws him into antres [caverns] vast and desarts idle, and 
bereaves him of his memory, and leaves him naked, plaiting vine and with twigs in 
his hand. Very seductive are the first steps from the town to the woods, but the end 
is want and madness." 

Emerson was not alone in seeing this quality in Thoreau. Although 
Thoreau was capable of high spirits, playfulness, loyalty, sincerity, high ardor, and 
although he had friends, was close to his family and had disciples, there was an 
austere, Bartleby-like calm — the calm of a tomb — in him. He was also capable of 
bitter all-out negation; in this he was more like Carlyle than Emerson. He had little 
ordinary warmth, not much of the common touch, no concessions to ordinary human 
weakness and appetite. An important part of his inner core was a deep capacity for 
renunciation, an ability to do without, which was all the more impressive for 
seeming to be effortless. The ability to say no, to prefer not to, created a wall around 
Thoreau. Emerson admired him; he called him the man of Concord. Emerson 
defended him; their quarrels were always made up — even the ones that lasted a long 
time. The two men shared a sympathy with a certain kind of intellectual anarchy 
that Santayana says "is full of lights. Its blindness is made up of dazzling survivals, 
revivals, and fresh beginnings," Santayana goes on. "Were it not for these remnants 
or seeds of order, Chaos itself would not exist: it would be nothing." Yet there was 
always this unapproachableness to Thoreau, and a number of people shared 
Emerson's lurking sense that Thoreau 's anarchic vitality was poisoned because 

Robert D. Richardson, Jr. g 

drawn from a well of isolation that was ultimately destructive. Moncure Conway 
said he suspected "that a perilous Erl-King's daughter lurked in the heart of Walden 
Water, and drew away the life of Thoreau." Channing admitted that at bottom he 
did not know what the meaning of Thoreau 's life was. H.G.O. Blake, to whom 
Thoreau wrote the best letters of his life, began his correspondence with Thoreau 
by recognizing the negations in him. "When I was last in Concord, you spoke of 
retiring further from our civilization," he wrote Thoreau in March 1848. "I asked 
you if you would feel no longings for the society of your friends. Your reply was, 
in substance, 'No, I am nothing.'" And much as Emerson cared for Thoreau, 
praising his wit, his writing, and his love and knowledge of nature, he could not shut 
out this side of him. "It is a misfortune of Thoreau 's that he has no appetite," he 
noted. "He neither eats nor drinks. What can you have in common with a man who 
does not know the difference between ice cream and cabbage and who has no 
experience of wine or ale?" The exasperated Emerson observed that Thoreau 
"avoided commonplace, and talks birchbark to all comers, and reduces them all to 
the same insignificance." Emerson was only partly entertained that Thoreau "has 
no more use for a railroad than a bird has." There was a rigidity in Thoreau that led 
his pupils to call him "the trainer"; it was like the rigidity that had killed Emerson's 
brother Edward. One day in 1854, when Thoreau was talking, Emerson was 
suddenly struck "with a surprising resemblance in him to my brother Edward." 
Many years later, Emerson could still see the dark strand in Thoreau 's nature. 
Sometime after Thoreau 's death Emerson wrote, "I see the Thoreau poison working 
today in many valuable lives, in some for good, in some for harm." 

Their expectations for each other were terrifyingly high. They spent many 
years in each other's company. Rifts and even breaks were to be expected. 
Fortunately for both, none of the breaks proved final; they were reconciled and 
remained friends, though the degree of intimacy would change significantly. The 
hard names, the sense that each had poisoned as well as inspired the other, even the 
word enemy, testifies to the importance of this friendship for both men. And after 
anger, unnecessary honesty, bitterness, and impossibly high standards, there was, 
finally, forgiveness in both of them. Emerson, at the end of his life, still thought of 
Thoreau as having been his best friend. Thoreau ends his long essay on friendship 
by quoting "an oriental philosopher" who said, "although friendship between good 
men is interrupted, their principles remain unaltered. The stalk of the lotus may be 
broken, and the fibres remain connected." 

It was this impulse to pardon that kept the fibres connected. When 
Emerson later wrote an essay on "Success," he argued that just as there were two 
ways of living, so there were two kinds of success. One is external; we are taught, 
he said, to ride, run, argue and contend, unfold one's talents, shine, conquer, and 
possess. "But the inner life," he went on, "sits at home, and does not learn to do 
things, nor value these feats at all." The inner life "lives in the great present, it makes 
the present great." Emerson then reports a conversation. (It sounds as though it 

10 Concord Saunterer 

might have been between him and Ellery Charming, but it might have been with 
Thoreau.) "A person of this temper (disposed to the inner life) once said to a man 
of much activity, "I will pardon you that you do so much, and you me that I do 
nothing." And perhaps you will pardon me for taking up so much of your time this 
fine morning if I stop right now and sit down. 


"Captain of a 9-Cuckftberrtj Tarty ": 

Tfiortau and a 9{ezv ILngtand 

9{ituaC of Summer 

Wesley T. Mott 

On a late-July morning in 1846, Henry David Thoreau was released after 
spending a night in the Concord jail for refusing to pay his poll tax, a tax he thought 
immoral because it supported slavery and the war against Mexico. He "proceeded 
to finish [the] errand" that had been interrupted by his arrest the day before, "and, 
having put on my mended shoe, joined a huckleberry party, who were impatient to 
put themselves under my conduct; and in half an hour, — for the horse was soon 
tackled, — was in the midst of a huckleberry field, on one of our highest hills, two 
miles off; and then the State was nowhere to be seen." 1 

Thoreau 's essay "Civil Disobedience," inspired by this episode, has stirred 
generations of visionaries and reformers the world over, from Tolstoy, to Gandhi, 
to Martin Luther King, Jr. Yet Thoreau 's characteristic final gesture toward the 
State is one not of lofty, noble idealism, but of cavalier disdain and withering 
sarcasm. What more scornful way to dismiss the crassly materialistic, misery- and 
war-mongering State than to make it vanish in the willfully trivial pursuit of 
Concord's most common wild berry? 

Walden (1854) recounts the aftermath of the night in jail in a more 
understated manner ("I was released the next day, obtained my mended shoe, and 
returned to the woods in season to get my dinner of huckleberries on Fair-Haven 
Hill." 2 Here in Thoreau' s masterpiece, however, huckleberrying takes on a 
widening symbolic meaning. In Thoreau 's quest for transcendental economy, he 
weighs "picking huckleberries" as a means of making a living commensurate with 
his modest needs, but he concludes that "trade curses every thing it handles" (69- 
70). He comes to associate dining on wild huckleberries with the true independence 
he finds threatened by society and decries the division of labor that makes it 

THE CONCORD SAUNTERER, N.S. Volume 1, Number 1, Fall 1993 

14 Concord Saunterer 

increasingly difficult to savor the fruits of one's work. "It is a vulgar error," he 
declares, "to suppose that you have tasted huckleberries who never plucked them. 
A huckleberry never reaches Boston. . . . The ambrosial and essential part of the 
fruit is lost with the bloom which is rubbed off in the market cart, and they become 
mere provender" ( 1 73). He begins to worry that with the arrival of the railroad, "All 
the Indian huckleberry hills are stripped" (116). But he would still advise the poor 
Irish farmer John Field that "If he and his family would live simply, they might all 
go a-huckleberrying in the summer for their amusement" (206). 

For many readers of Walden faced with the realities of making a living and 
raising a family, the advice to John Field has seemed obtuse or perverse. Even Ralph 
Waldo Emerson, eulogizing his independent disciple Thoreau in 1862, regretted 
"that I cannot help counting it a fault in him that he had no ambition. Wanting this, 
instead of engineering for all America, he was the captain of a huckleberry party." 3 
Huckleberrying became an emblem of Thoreau' s individualistic stance toward 
nature, society, and politics. But of course the image resonated in his time not 
because the activity was idiosyncratically Thoreauvian but because it was virtually 
a ritual of summer in New England. His auditors and readers might find the full 
implications of transcendental economy hard to swallow. But in making the theme 
more palatable, Thoreau could count on their firsthand experience of the gastro- 
nomic, social, and spiritual delights of huckleberrying. 4 

A fuller glimpse of this popular nineteenth-century pastime has come to 
light in a chapter from The Puritan ( 1 836), a two-volume collection of genial, witty, 
sentimental essays by "John Oldbug, Esq." This chapter won a large measure of 
popularity, appearing, minus a few paragraphs, under the title "Huckleberrying" on 
the front page of the Boston Daily Evening Transcript for 22 August 1 836; on the 
front page of the Bunker Hill Aurora and Boston Mirror for 27 August; and, in 
briefer form, interestingly, in the Yeoman s Gazette, Concord, Mass., on 10 
September, as Thoreau started his senior year at Harvard. 5 The author of 
"Huckleberrying" (reprinted below) - "John Oldbug, Esq." - was the Reverend 
Leonard Withington (1789-1885), pastor of First Church, Congregational, in 
Newbury, a position he would hold for forty-two years (1816-1 858). 6 (Withington 
also wrote all of The Puritan.) Dorchester-born, educated at Andover Seminary and 
Yale (1814), Withington was already noted for his pulpit eloquence by the time he 
wrote this charming sketch. Like so many New England clergymen of the time, he 
cultivated his literary as well as theological talents. Besides publishing a number of 
sermons and discourses, he would find time also to marry twice, father twelve 
children, and participate in temperance and abolition activities. 

Withington 's "Huckleberrying" anticipates many themes and techniques 
familiar to Thoreauvians. The venture itself is an excursion, which was for Thoreau 
not only a physical activity but a favorite literary genre enabling him to combine 
description, insight, and moral exhortation. Though Withington is far more playful 
and less earnest, his nuggets of wisdom often sound Thoreauvian: His observation, 

Wesley T. Mott 75 

for example, that the more adventuresome pickers fail "to collect the treasures 
around them" suggests Thoreau's microcosmic appreciation of things close at hand 
(he had, of course, "travelled a good deal in Concord" [Walden 4]). Withington's 
toying with Massachusetts river names looks forward to Thoreau's fascination with 
Indian and Anglo-Saxon place names (and even, in a darker sense, to Hawthorne's 
struggle with the cultural poverty facing artists in the United States). Though the 
mood is gently bittersweet, Withington's account of the waning of enthusiasm after 
a day of picking (even "nature becomes a little exhausted") anticipates the classic 
romantic dilemma of sustaining inspiration, a dilemma faced squarely by Emerson 
and Thoreau. 

But the primary charm of Withington's essay is its unguarded nostalgia 
and its detailed description of a cherished social ritual of his youth. Even for 
Thoreau, huckleberrying was not essentially antisocial: It was, after all, a "party." 
Moncure Daniel Conway, fondly recalling the delight of taking part in such 
Thoreau-led expeditions, remembered Thoreau's remarkable sensitivity in cheer- 
ing up "little Edward Emerson" when he was distraught over spilling his basket of 
huckleberries. 7 

Yet even Withington's nostalgic essay points, toward the end, to the 
encroachment of industrialism on the rural landscape of Massachusetts. 8 By the late 
1850s, the very future of huckleberrying seemed in doubt to Thoreau. Diminishing 
tracts of undeveloped land — and lack of public access to what did remain — 
threatened an activity taken for granted by generations of Bay Staters, an activity 
that was for Thoreau, in his life and in his art, a ritual of renewal. 

This was especially distressing for a man who, in his final years, was as 
determined to know huckleberries as he had been "determined to know beans" at 
Walden Pond. The huckleberry was a symbol of freedom, of economic and natural 
harmony, of human wholeness. Indeed, the huckleberry became a symbol of 
Thoreau's own integrated personality, and of his writings themselves. 9 Sensing his 
own mortality, Thoreau was troubled alike by the vanishing huckleberry fields and 
by the uncertainty of his own legacy. As a kind of final statement, he began culling 
and reworking his many journal entries into a lecture on "Huckleberries," left 
unfinished at his death. 10 Classically Thoreauvian, this lecture/essay seeks to 
"know" huckleberries by observation and taste, as well as taxonomically, etymo- 
logically, historically, economically, culturally, morally, spiritually. 

Commenting on all of these levels simultaneously, he proclaims that "the 
object is not merely to get a ship-load of something which you can eat or sell, but 
the pleasure of gathering it is to be taken into the account" (21). "Liberation and 
enlargement — such is the fruit which all culture aims to secure" (27). 

The spirit of independence and wildness that Thoreau believed essential 
to civilization would be captured, of course, by Mark Twain in his archetypally 
American hero, Huckleberry Finn. ' ' Today "the spirit of the huckleberry" (29) lives 

16 Concord Saunterer 

not only in nostalgia and in fiction but also in those who heed Thoreau's urgent 
appeal for conservation: 

I think that each town should have a park, or rather a primitive forest, of five 
hundred or a thousand acres, either in one body or several — where a stick should 
never be cut for fuel — nor for the navy, nor to make wagons, but stand and decay 
for higher uses — a common possession forever, for instruction and recreation. 

All Walden wood might have been reserved, with Walden in the midst of it, 
and the Easterbrooks country, an uncultivated area of some four square miles in 
the north of the town, might have been our huckleberry field. If any owners of these 
tracts are about to leave the world without natural heirs who need or deserve to be 
specially remembered, they will do wisely to abandon the possession to all 
mankind, and not will them to some individual who perhaps has enough already — 
and so correct the error that was made when the town was laid out. As some give 
to Harvard College or another Institution, so one might give a forest or a 
huckleberry field to Concord. 

If we truly heed "the spirit of the huckleberry" in Thoreau, we know that 
his appeal is neither sentimental nor antisocial. Our own survival is at stake. As 
Thoreau declares at the end of "Huckleberrying," "Why nature is but another name 
for health" (36). 


With what delight, in former years, did I set out on a whortleberry 
expedition; or, as we had it, in colloquial language, going a huckleberrying! 
David, in the first place, brings up Old Dobbin from the pasture, takes off his 
fetters, combs down his mane, smooths his fetlocks, sees that his shoes are tight, 
and tackles him into the old waggon, whose capacious body, like the Trojan 
horse, can hold a host of people. Over this waggon, we weave branches of birch 
and hemlock, forming a grateful shade, to protect us from the sun of a New 
England summer, on the last of July or first of August. In this, is placed three 
or four transverse boards, planed smooth, like the seats in a whale-boat, for the 
party to sit on. Into this arbor on wheels, we crowd, lads and lasses, young and 
old, with a good supply of cakes, biscuit and cheese, with little baskets made 
of birch bark, into which we are to drop our whortleberries, after picking them. 
After much tumbling, laughing, and crowding, (one lady drops her bonnet, and 
another her gloves,) the old bay horse puts forth his sinews, and the waggon 
begins to move — 

Wesley T. Mott 77 

Over hill, over dale, 

Through bush, through brier, 
Over park, over pale, 

Through flood, through fire, 

until we reach the whortleberry pasture, which lies about four miles off. Here 
begin the labors of the day. 

But now the character of the several pickers begins to be developed. Some 
make it a point of conscience, not to put any thing into their baskets, until they 
have first filled their own maw, of which number, I must confess, I was one. 
Some love to wander about, to explore new grounds, and, like other mortals, 
are so intent on distant prospects, as never to collect the treasures around them. 
Some ladies fancy that they must scream at every toad or reptile they see; and 
some are so engaged in talking and laughing, that they wholly overlook the 
business of the day. My aunt Hannah was the best picker I ever knew; and my 
uncle Gideon incomparably the worst: for he was so intent on taking care of the 
young ladies, freeing their clothes from briers, and assisting them in skipping 
from rock to rock, that the expedition was always to him, a day of more gallantry 
than thrift. I believe, in my conscience, that he never got berries enough to 
speckle the surface of one pudding. 

So roll the hours, the company scattering like a flock of white sheep, and 
the woods and ravines resounding with the vacant laugh, until the hour of dinner 
comes. This was always a busy time to my uncle Gideon. First you must select 
your spot by the side of a rock, or under a great tree, and at a convenient distance 
from some living spring, or running stream. You take out a large jack-knife and 
cut up the shrubbery around you, and stick it, in connected branches, around the 
spot where you design to spread your table, forming a little arbor, such as Adam 
might have dressed for Eve in Paradise. Then you take all your boards from the 
waggon; and piling up stones for legs, you make as good an extemporaneous 
table as you can; covering it over with all the towels, cravats, and white aprons 
you can beg or borrow, for a table-cloth; your dishes are slate-stones; and your 
seats are made of mounds of earth; and here with many a joke and many a laugh, 
you pile up your cold tongues, your slits of dried beef, your slices of ham, your 
cake and cheese, and down the party sits with keen appetites, to what our 
newspapers call a cold collation. Your water you bring from an adjacent spring, 
in your hat, or a wooden bowl, unless a sudden thunder-shower should come 
up, and then you can open your mouth and catch it directly from the sky. 

Here the party sit and talk, as Adam and the angel did in Eden, without fear 
lest dinner cool. The cheeks of the girls are painted with what I consider as the 
best rouge, good native fresh air, and abundance of exercise, and I have known 
very important connections formed for life, whose commencement was in a 
whortleberry pasture. After dinner they scatter again to their afternoon work; 

18 Concord Saunterer 

and as the sun descends and the time becomes shorter, I have observed they 
generally become more sober, and double their diligence, in order to fill their 
boxes and baskets before evening. Besides, nature becomes a little exhausted, 
nor can the most lively stream, dance and sparkle through the whole of its 

I remember, near a great pasture, where our parties used most frequently 
to go, and which my grandfather called the Take-up-time, on the opposite side 
of the road, on a smooth grassy plain, stood a little cottage, owned by Mr. 
Johnny Croft, a widower, whose wealth was by no means to be measured by his 
outward display. Beside this cottage, flowed a river, fringed with alders, which 
shall be nameless, because in New England, we do not give very poetic names 
to our rivers; for who can hitch into rhyme, or soften into an essay, the 
Amonoosuc, the Shetucket, the Quinebaug, and the Quineboag — Mother 
Brooks, and a hundred other fluvial mother's names, which seem to have been 
given to fright the muses from our shores, and to invite nothing but factories and 
paper-mills to the banks of our streams. Well — the said Mr. Johnny Croft, one 
day, when the sun was declining, came out, and with all the politeness with 
which he was master, invited a large party of us, to come into his sentry-box to 
take tea, previous to our returning home. 

It is a maxim among the schoolmen, that whatever is received, is received 
according to the capacity of the recipient; and accordingly, my first wonder 
was how so small a house was to hold so many people. But as Mr. Croft was 
a widower, and my aunt Hannah a single lady, we agreed, with many winks and 
much tittering, to accept his invitation. His little room was soon filled; there was 
hardly a place to set the table. The seats at the table were soon occupied by the 
junior visitants; and the only chair left vacant for aunt Hannah, was next to our 
host, the worthy Mr. John Croft, a little older than herself and a widower. In 
such a condition, it was impossible to restrain the looks, the winks, and smiles 
of the company. Mr. Johnny was all attention; and my aunt looked queer several 
times. Sometimes he would help her to a spoonful of honey, and sometimes to 
a bunch of grapes; and once he invited her to come and spend a week's visit at 
his house; for which compliment she returned him her humble and hearty 
thanks; but left it ambiguous whether she ever intended to come. Mr. Croft was 
a man, who mingled very little in society; he lived in a solitary part of the town, 
and in his politeness he was not always able to fulfil his good intentions. The 
scene would have passed off very well but for accident. My aunt' s tea happened 
to be too strong; and Mr. Croft, who was all attention, jumped up and took the 
tea-kettle off from the fireplace, in the same room, and began to replenish the 
cup with water. But whilst in the act, the handle slipped from its socket, the tea- 
kettle fell, scalded Mr. Croft's foot disastrously, and fell with its sooty sides on 
my aunt's chintz gown. Many were the apologies on both sides; and deep the 

Wesley T. Mott jg 

sorrow expressed; and I need not say, that all the wit in the waggon, as we rode 
home that evening, was at my aunt's expense. 


1 Henry D. Thoreau, "Resistance to Civil Government" ["Civil Disobedience"], 
Reform Papers, ed. Wendell Glick (Princeton, N. J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 
1973), 83-84. 

2 Thoreau, Walden, ed. J. Lyndon Shanley (Princeton, N. J.: Princeton Univ. 
Press, 1971), 171. 

3 Joel Myerson, "Emerson's Thoreau': A New Edition from Manuscript," 
Studies in the American Renaissance 1979 (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1979), 53. 

4 Though patches are less accessible now than in Thoreau 's day, berry picking 
is not wholly a lost American pastime. For a humorous account of "the annual 
summer insanity," see Alan Liere, "Pickin'," American Forests 91 (August 
1985): 40-42. The National Huckleberry Festival is held annually in Jay, 
Oklahoma, which calls itself the "Huckleberry Capital of the World." 

5 John Oldbug, Esq. [Leonard Withington], The Puritan: A Series of Essays, 
Critical, Moral, and Miscellaneous, 2 vols. (Boston: Perkins & Marvin, 1 836), 
1: 203-08. Several dozen differences in punctuation and spelling occur in the 
newspaper reprintings. All are in the collection of the American Antiquarian 
Society, Worcester, Massachusetts. I want to thank Joanne Chaison, Marie 
Lamoureux, Joyce Tracy, and Dennis Laurie of the AAS for their indispensable 

6 On Withington, see his obituary, Boston Evening Transcript, 23 April 1885, 
1 ; Eliza Adams Little and Lucretia Little Ilsley , eds. , The First Parish Newbury, 
Massachusetts 1635-1935 (Newburyport, 1935); mdVital Records of Newbury, 
Massachusetts, 2 vols. (Salem: The Essex Institute, 191 1). 

Withington had preached the prestigious Massachusetts Election Sermon 
in 1 83 1 . Unitarian Orville Dewey reviewed the published version, praising the 
style as "exceedingly felicitous and spirited"; but he faulted Withington for 
"fail[ing] to make out a case. . . . hence it appears as if the preacher were 
fighting a man of straw, a mere phantom of his own imagination ("Dignity of 
the Clerical Office," Christian Examiner 12 [July 1832]: 350-51). 

An anonymous Unitarian reviewer (W. Ware) found "a good deal of truth" 
in Withington 's moderate approach to the temperance issue ("A Review of the 
late Temperance Movements in Massachusetts," Christian Examiner 28 [May 

20 Concord Saunterer 

1840]: 269). Another two decades later, an anonymous reviewer (A. P. 
Peabody) found much to praise in Withington's Solomon's Song: Translated 
and Explained in Three Parts. Though Peabody disagreed with Withington as 
to the "sacred character" of the Song, he deemed it "none the less worthy to be 
read and studied" and thought this a book of "surpassing charm": "It is the 
harvesting of a life-time's ripened fruits, — a work displaying masterly critical 
and exegetical scholarship, yet to which no mere scholar would have been 
adequate." He urged publication of Withington's other writings {North Ameri- 
can Review 92 [April 1861]: 590-92). 

7 Moncure Daniel Conway, Autobiography, Memories and Experiences, 2 vols. 
(Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Co., 1904), 1:148. 

8 Leo Marx draws a "distinction between two kinds of pastoralism — one that is 
popular and sentimental, the other imaginative and complex" (The Machine in 
the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America [New York: Oxford 
Univ. Press, 1964], 5). By this definition Withington's essay, despite a dark 
undertone, clearly represents the former kind of "pastoralism," Thoreau's 
writings, the latter. 

9 Richard Lebeaux makes this point in Thoreau's Seasons (Amherst: Univ. of 
Massachusetts Press, 1984), 338-41. 

10 This work-in-progress was edited by Leo Stoller as Huckleberries (The 
Windhover Press of The Univ. of Iowa and The New York Public Library, 
1970; rpt., with an introduction by Robert Sattelmeyer, in Henry David 
Thoreau: The Natural History Essays [Salt Lake City: Peregrine Smith, Inc., 
1980], 21 1-62. References are to the Stoller volume. 

1 1 James L. Colwell discusses the etymology and popular connotations of the 
huckleberry in "Huckleberries and Humans: On the Naming of Huckleberry 
Finn," PMLA 86 (January 1971): 70-76. 

Convers Francis 
Collection of Joel Myerson 


Convers Francis and the Concordians, 
Tstnerson, Alcott, and Others 

Guy R. Woodall 

Convers Francis ( 1 795- 1 863) — liberal Unitarian minister, eldest member 
of the Transcendental Club, and professor of divinity at Harvard — was an intimate 
friend of some of the most notable literary and social figures of Concord for more 
than forty years. His frequent meetings and communications with his Concord 
acquaintances were occasioned by pulpit exchanges, social calls, funerals, meetings 
of the Cambridge Association of Congregational Ministers and of the Transcenden- 
tal Club, and lyceum lectures. Some Concordians with whom Francis enjoyed a 
longstanding friendship were the Rev. Ezra Ripley, the Rev. Samuel Ripley and his 
remarkable wife, Sarah, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Amos Bronson Alcott. Not all 
of his encounters or visits with his Concord friends can be accounted for, but the 
many that can be documented illuminate greatly their lives and his, and add 
significantly to the picture of the social, literary, and religious life of Concord in his 
era. 1 

Francis was pastor of the First Parish Congregational (Unitarian) Church 
in Watertown from 1819 to 1842, and was the Parkman Professor of Pulpit 
Eloquence and the Pastoral Care at the Harvard Divinity School from 1 842 to 1 863. 
From the time of his ordination as pastor at Watertown in 1 8 1 9, in which service the 
Rev. Ezra Ripley of Concord gave the charge and the Rev. Samuel Ripley of 
Waltham and Concord led the prayer, Francis visited Concord from time to time 
over four decades on pulpit exchanges with Ezra Ripley and his successors. From 
the notes that Francis made in his sermon booklets and in his journals, the following 
calendar of his preaching in Concord can be reconstructed: 2 



11/18 AN The Gospel Preached to the Poor (Matt. 9:5) 

11/28 FN On Self Denial (Matt. 1 6:24) 

THE CONCORD SAUNTERER, N.S. Volume 1, Number 1, Fall 1993 

24 Concord Saunterer 

On Delaying Repentance (Ps. 1 19:60) 

The Way, the Truth, and the Life (Jno. 14:6) 
On the Accountability of God (Rom. 14:12) 











































The Wisdom of the World (1 Cor. 3:19) 
On Moral Unconcern (Amos 6:1) 

The Difference between the Present and Future State 

Illustrated by the Difference between Childhood and 

Manhood (1 Cor. 13:11 ) 

The Danger of Premature Confidence and Exaltation 

Illustrated (1 Kings 20:11) 

Religion Like Seed Cast into the Ground, Etc. (Mk. 4:26- 


The Christian's Confidence. 1. (2 Tim. 1:12) 
Pray without Ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17) 

Being Dead, He Yet Speaketh (Heb. 1 1:4) 
While We Sleep, the Enemy Comes (Matt. 13:25) 

Why Seek Ye the Living among the Dead? (Lk. 34:52) 

He That Believeth on the Son Hath Everlasting Life (Jno. 


The Language of Action (Acts 21:11) 

Elisha, Vision of the Horses and Chariots of Fire (2 Kg. 

Mortality Swallowed Up of Life (2 Cor. 5:4) 
The Call for Reform (Jer. 8:22) 

The Agency of God and Man in Union with Each Other 
(1 Cor. 3:17) 

































Guy R. Woodall 25 

1/18 AN Gamaliel's Advice (Acts 5:38-39) 

God as Distant and as Near (Ps.38:21) 

The Wicked for the Day of Evil (Prov. 16:4) 

Natural Power of Moral Judgment (Lk. 7:57) 

The Use of Opportunities (Ecc. 8:5) 

Whether We Live or Die, We Are the Lord's (Rom. 14:8) 

Believers and Unbelievers (Acts 28:24) 

A God that Judgeth in the Earth (Ps. 58: 1 1) 

Judgment Corrupted by the Lie in the Right Hand (Is. 


The Call for Reform (Jer. 8:22) 

The Church of the Living God ( 1 Tim 3:15) 

Christ in Us the Hope of Glory (Col. 1:27) 

The Worth of the Cup of Cold Water (Matt. 10:42) 

The One Thing Lacking (Mk. 10:21) 

Mediatory and Ultimate Truths (1 Pet. 1:9) 
The Government of God a Joyous Truth (Ps. 97:1) 
(Thanksgiving Day Sermon) 
12/13 AN Moral Evil Is Prolific (Matt. 7:5) 

After some of these Sabbath day's appointments, he recorded his sermon 
texts and impressions in his journals: 

Nov. 28th, 1 8 1 9. — Exchanged with Dr. [E.] Ripley of Concord, & preached 
from Matth. XVI, 24, & Psalm CXIX, 60. — I passed a very pleasant day, & 
in the evening returned. ...(/, 1 : 292) 

May 12th, 1822. — Exchanged with Dr. [E.] Ripley of Concord, — preached 
from John XIV, 6, & Romans XIV, 1 2 — My manner was not such as to satisfy 
myself. (/, 1:309) 

Aug. 17th. 1823.— Exchanged with Dr. [E.] Ripley of 
Concord; — preached from 1 Corinth. Ill, 19, & Amos VI, I spoke too loud in 
the forenoon. (/, 1: 317) 

Sept. 9th. 1827. — Exchanged with Dr. [E.] Ripley of Concord, where I had 
three services & preached three sermons, from 1 Corinthians XIII, 11, — 1 
Kings XX, 1 1 ,— & Mark IV, 26, 27, 28.— I labored all day under the pressure 
of a heavy, stupifying cold. (/, 2: 247) 

26 Concord Saunterer 

Francis preached many of his sermons several times. Sometimes he 
repeated a sermon after a lengthy interval at a place where it had been preached 
before; but he kept a meticulous record of when and where he preached his sermons, 
and upon repetition, he generally adjusted the sermons to the newer times and 
circumstances, adding notes whenever necessary by inserting separate sheets in the 
sermon booklet. A good example of this updating may be seen with the sermon "The 
Call for Reform/' originally preached in Harvard chapel on 25 March 1 844, and then 
repeated on several other occasions in various congregations before being first 
preached in Concord on 25 May 1845. It was preached a second time in Concord 
on 1 June 1856. Undoubtedly the sermon found a highly receptive audience when 
it was first preached there. Hostile feelings against slavery and the South were rising 
rapidly everywhere in New England, but especially in Concord after Concord's own 
distinguished lawyer Samuel Hoar and his daughter had been shamefully run out of 
Charleston, South Carolina, a few months before and returned home to report the 
indignity. 4 For the first Concord preaching Francis added the following note: 

I do hope, fr[iend]s., that the righteous sentiment of indignation wh[ich] 
is now rising from the hearts of vast masses, will not sink & die away in 
quiet submission to wrong, as it has already so often done to our shame, 
& to the sorrow of the good; but that it will be the turning point from 
wh[ich] we may look forward to a better day. — When you look at the 
state of things around you, I am sure you will be reminded it was not for 
such results the men of '75 met the soldiers of the oppressor on the banks 
of yonder river; — it was not for such results that you built yonder 
monument, was it? 5 

Almost ten years later Frederic Henry Hedge and Francis still remembered 
the Hoar event with indignation. 6 And eleven years later, on 1 June 1856, when 
Francis repeated 'The Call for Reform" in Concord, he made significant additions, 
responding to the times. When he first preached the sermon in Concord, "the 
righteous indignation wh[ich] is now rising in the hearts of vast masses" of which 
he spoke in his addendum referred to the righteous indignation in New England over 
slavery and the treatment of Hoar; but by the summer of 1 856 the anger of the people 
of Concord over the slavery issue had increased dramatically. As a result of late 
developments on the national scene in the slavery controversy, and commensurate 
with the boiling abhorrence of slavery in Concord, Francis added to his old sermon 
some timely allusions that no local citizen could fail to recognize and appreciate; 

They [righteous men] see man holding his brother man as property just as he 
holds the brute beast, — divesting him of the character of a man, & selling him 
with his wife & children, as he would sell the brute beast at the auction stand; 
& to sustain this state of things laws passed wh[ich] ought to make savages 
blush. They see wide & far reaching plans laid by to extend broad cast over 

Guy R. Woodall 27 

the land & to perpetuate forever, if possible, the mighty wrong of human 
bondage. For this purpose they see the most solemn national compacts 
trodden under foot, the most solemn national faith violated, & the whole force 
of government employed to force slavery by ruffian violence upon our brother 
whose honest enterprise would lay the foundation of a new State. They see the 
cowardly, brutal assassin at the very Senate Chamber watching his opportu- 
nity to approach a great & noble man stealthily, & smiting him down with the 
murderer's bludgeon to the earth, because he had stood in his place to utter 
manly & eloquent words for freedom, for justice, & right; — & the same 
brutality threatened to others if they shall dare to utter such words, — & in the 
meantime the offender, instead of having the mark of Cain, at large among 
decent men, & even caressed & applauded. It was not for such results, I think, 
that the men of '75 met the soldiers of the oppressor on the banks of yonder 
river. It was not for such results that you erected yonder monument, was it, 
fr[iend]s? 7 

At the first preaching in 1845 the audience, many of whom were respon- 
sible for the erection of the Concord monument in 1837 as a symbol of freedom, 
undoubtedly appreciated his reference to it. But at the second preaching in 1 856, the 
reference to the monument excited even greater feelings than before, because this 
time he brought to their minds the specter of slavery that was threatening the 
freedom of the the whole nation after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1 850, 
the debate over the Kansas-Nebraska Acts of 1 854, and, above all, the recent outrage 
against Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, the leading advocate of abolition- 
ism, who had been savagely attacked and beaten with a cane on the floor of the U. 
S. Senate by Rep. Preston S. Brooks of South Carolina on 22 May 1 856. And instead 
of being punished by his constituents, Brooks, "the cowardly, brutal assassin" to 
whom Francis refers, was triumphantly re-elected to Congress in the next election. 
The whole of New England deplored Brooks's brutal attack. In Concord when 
Judge Hoar heard of the attack, he immediately told Emerson, who delivered on 
Monday, 26 May 1856, a lecture, "The Assault upon Mr. Sumner," at a protest 
meeting in the Concord Town Hall. 8 On the following Sunday, 1 June, Francis 
delivered "Call for Reform." As a close friend and frequent correspondent with 
Sumner, Francis was particularly incensed by the violence. On 29 May, only three 
days before he preached this sermon, he wrote Sumner a letter of sympathy and 
support. Bristling with indignation, he castigated Brooks and the evils of slavery in 
a language that anticipated what he was to say in his sermon. 

It [Sumner's Kansas speech] was a memorial to that agony of malice, to which 
the accursed Slave-Power was reduced by its victorious logic & its thrilling 
appeals, — an agency, which could spit its venom in no way so appropriate to 
itself as to that which it chose, — the assassin blows of an atrocious & 
cowardly bully. Dear Mr. Sumner, language has no terms to express the 
burning indignation, the utter loathing, with which I, in common with all 

28 Concord Saunterer 

decent people here, think of this attempt to crush freedom of speech by 
employing the murderous hand of a wretch, whose name henceforth should 
be struck from the roll of men, & placed on that of brutes. Let the mark of Cain 
be burned upon his brow; and like that first murderer let him be a "fugitive & 
a vagabond on the earth." 9 

While Francis was not numbered among the highly visible Unitarian clerical 
reformers of the time such as his friend Theodore Parker or even his own sister, the 
poet-novelist Lydia Maria Child, his opposition to institutional slavery was well 
known. It is not known whether the young Harvard graduate Franklin Benjamin 
Sanborn, who had moved to Concord in 1855 to open a school, was present when 
Francis preached "The Call for Reform" the second time, but in later years he 
remembered Francis as "a friend of all practicable reforms." 10 

On numerous occasions Francis was summoned to Concord for special 
ministerial duties. When, for example, the Rev. Hersey Bradford Goodwin was 
ordained on 18 February 1830 as colleague to the Rev. Ezra Ripley, Francis made 
the introductory prayer; on 1 February 1837, when Barzillai Frost was ordained as 
teacher and colleague of Ripley, Francis led the consecrating prayer; and at the 
funeral of his old friend Ezra Ripley on 23 September 1841, Francis made the 
opening prayer; and then on 26 September, the following Sabbath, at the invitation 
of the town, he preached a sermon entitled "Mortality Swallowed up in Life," later 
published as Death of the Aged. In the sermon Francis characterized Ripley as the 
"patriarch of our churches," and among his virtues noted that "he seemed to me to 
have the conscientiousness and rectitude of the old Puritan soul with none of its 
harshness and narrowness; the purity of a holy man, with the comity of a gentle- 
man"; and reflecting back to the time when Ripley preached his ordination sermon, 
Francis said: "When I entered the ministry, and first became acquainted with him, 
I remember being struck with this tone of manliness and sincere kindness running 
through his intercourse. ... I felt that I was in the presence of a man, who would 
himself be the happier, if he could do me some good; and in saying this, I believe, 
I speak the common experience of my brethren. " n When a prolonged illness in late 
1855 and early 1856 sent the Rev. Barzillai Frost, Ezra Ripley's successor, to the 
West Indies for recuperation, Ebenezer Rockwood Hoar, the Attorney General, on 
behalf of the parish, called Francis to supply the pulpit in his absence at "the usual 
country price of $15 a Sabbath"; and later at the funeral of Frost on 10 December 
1858, according to the Minutes of the Church, Francis "offered a very fervent 
prayer." 12 

Francis's trips to Concord to preach for the Rev. Ezra Ripley often allowed 
him the opportunity to spend the night with his friend Emerson with whom he 
delighted to talk. Invariably the conversation turned to thoughtful matters in 
philosophy, religion, literature, and science. Emerson enjoyed Francis's company, 
and Francis never tired of Emerson's charming speech, although there were times 

Guy R. Woodall 29 

when he felt that he could not draw as close to Emerson in conversation as he would 
like to. On 7 November 1840, he spent the night with Emerson and they talked until 
a late hour on literary friends and acquaintances; afterwards Francis wrote in his 
journal: " In conversation somehow I cannot get very nigh to Mr. Emerson: but after 
all, is not every person, by nature of the case, insular, alone, as to the intellect? do 
people ever come together except through the affections? I suspect not" (/, 2: 255). 
Eight years Emerson's senior, Francis had known Emerson and followed his career 
since Emerson's boyhood. He became well acquainted with the young Emerson in 
1818 and the years immediately following when Emerson often visited his uncle and 
aunt, Samuel and Sarah Ripley, in Waltham and sometimes taught in their school. 
After Francis ' s settlement in 1 8 1 9 as pastor of the First Parish Church at Watertown, 
adjoining Waltham, Francis himself was a regular and welcomed visitor in the 
Ripley s' home, and for many years after his settlement, exchanged pulpits monthly 
with Ripley, most often on a communion Sunday. Probably Francis and Emerson 
were at the Ripleys'on numerous occasions when Francis was beginning his 
ministry and Emerson was in his course of studies at Cambridge. It is likely that it 
was through the Ripleys that Emerson, even before Francis himself had been 
notified, learned that the church at Watertown was going to hire Francis. 13 Francis 
had many opportunities to hear Emerson preach or to get firsthand accounts of his 
preaching during 1826 and 1827 when Emerson, beginning his preaching career, 
often filled his uncle's pulpit in Waltham. Emerson, however, preached for Francis 
the first time on 9 December 1827, after which Francis penned the following 
impression in his journal: 

Dec. 9th, 1827 — This day Mr. [Ralph Waldo] Emerson from Cambridge 
preached for me, though I performed the other services. His sermons were 
from 1 Timothy V, 4 — "let them learn", & from 1 1 Chronicles XX, 20, 
"believe in the L. your G.", &c — These sermons were distinguished by great 
felicity of thought & style, by rich moral eloquence, & by a fresh & fervent 
earnestness. It is delightful to see & hear such a young man as Mr. E. — (J, 2: 

Here for the first of many times in his journals Francis expresses a favorable 
impression of Emerson's felicity of thought and eloquence, which he often found 
in Emerson's lectures in later years. 14 

During the 1 830' s the friendship of Francis and Emerson grew. Following 
Emerson's resignation from the Second Church in 1832, when he was being 
excluded from most pulpits in Boston, Francis embraced him as a friend. The liberal 
Francis differed from the more liberal and unorthodox Emerson occasionally on 
theological matters, but their differences never interrupted their friendship, and as 
time proved, Francis became one of Emerson's most steadfast admirers and 
defenders. On 4 September 1833, when Emerson was being anathematized and 

30 Concord Saunterer 

ostracized, Sarah Ripley wrote to Emerson's aunt Mary Moody Emerson, telling her 
of Emerson's troubles and of Convers Francis being one of his "stout" advocates: 

We have had a delightful visit of two days from Waldo. We feel about him as 
you do no doubt. While we all regard him as an apostle of the eternal reason, 
we do not like to hear the crows, as Pindar says, caw at the bird of Jove; 
nevertheless he has some stout advocates. A lady was mourning the other day 
to Mr. Francis about Mr. Emerson's sanity. "Madam, I wish I were as half as 
sane," he answered with warm indignation. 15 

Francis himself recorded an instance of upholding Emerson at the expense of some 
personal derision: "September 10, 1838. Took tea at a family belong- 
ing to the straitest sect of Boston conservatism. I found they had been taught 

by to abhor & abominate R. W. Emerson as a sort of mad dog: 

& when I defended that pure and angelic spirit & told them he was full of piety and 
truthfulness, (as he is, no man more so) they laughed at me with amazement, — for 
no such sounds had penetrated their clique before"(/, 2: 252). Theodore Parker 
recorded another instance, evidently related to him by Francis, of Francis speaking 
up for Emerson. At a Thursday lecture in Boston, a short time after Emerson's 
Divinity School Address in 1838, Nathaniel Frothingham spoke of Emerson as an 
infidel. "Francis," Parker reported, "clasped him by the shoulder and said, 'Now, 
now, Bro. Fr. that will do well enough for men who don't know any better, but you 
know that Emerson is no more an infidel than you are, or I am!'" 16 

There seems never to have been any hesitancy between Francis and 
Emerson in the matter of exchanging pulpit favors. Francis preached twice for 
Emerson during the last months of his ministry at the Second Church in 1832. 17 On 
several occasions later when Emerson preached at East Lexington, Francis invited 
him into his pulpit at Watertown and freely exchanged with him. Between 1 832 and 
1838, there is a record of Emerson's preaching on six Sabbaths in Francis's place 
in Watertown. 18 The records are not complete, but Francis preached for Emerson in 
East Lexington at least a half dozen times. 19 These pulpit exchanges and "labors of 
love" were times of rich conversation welcomed by both men. The last time that 
Emerson preached for Francis was on 15 August 1838, one month after Emerson's 
controversial Divinity School address, but the storm surrounding the address had in 
no way interrupted their exchange arrangements. Francis's cordial relationship with 
Emerson in these troubled times for Emerson is seen in his letter to Emerson on 8 
August 1838: 

I suppose I need not remind you, that I depend on you to occupy my pulpit next 
Sunday; — & I write chiefly to say that though my family may not be here at 
that time, you will find I trust good accommodations at my house as long as 
you choose to be there. It cost my wife no little struggle to make up her mind 
to be absent, when you are expected; yet she is unwilling to forego the 

Guy R. Woodall 3J 

advantage of the excursion to Nahant for herself and the little boy. She has not 
fully decided to go; but if she should, there will be somebody here to attend 
you, & doubtless an invitation to dinner. My boy will take good care of your 
horse. 20 

As Emerson ' s vocation as a minister came to a close and he embarked upon 
a career as a lecturer, publishing author, and leader in the Transcendental Club, 
Francis found many opportunities to visit and talk with him, as the private writings 
of each men show. After 1835 there are more than thirty separate entries referring 
to Emerson in Francis's journals, twenty-one of which are accounts of Francis 
attending Emerson's lectures in Boston, Cambridge, Waltham, and Concord. Ten 
entries tell of Francis and Emerson being together at meetings of the Cambridge 
Association of Ministers, the Transcendental Club, and in personal visits at 
Emerson's home. Also there are at least a dozen references to Emerson in the journal 
in which Francis comments upon reading Emerson' s essays, and reports what he has 
heard and read about Emerson (/, 2: 245 passim). Apart from Francis's journal 
entries, his letters and those of his friends reveal the friendship and high regard that 
he had for Emerson. Samuel Ripley, for example, wrote to Mary Moody Emerson, 
saying that Francis thought Emerson was a "wonderful man, the man of the present 
age." 21 Francis respected Emerson's intuitive searching for truth but was never quite 
able to follow the method to the extent that Emerson did. To Theodore Parker, 
traveling in Europe, Francis wrote: "Emerson, as ever, dwelleth in his own pure 
heaven, the pleroma, whence with high, mild wisdom of the prophet, he speaks to 
the seekers, who look up, and sometimes mistake a halo for a sun. A blessing on his 
great and good soul! & when he shall go from us let us wish him "tenuem et sine 
[jendre?] terrain Spiritantesque croces, et in urna perpetuum ver." 22 And to Hedge, 
Francis wrote: "Ejmerson], you know, is not a man, who can well justify his own 
processes of thought to another person — i.e., is not a man of logic: he is a seer who 
looks into the infinite, & reports what he sees; — if you like the report & agree with 
him, all the better, — if not, 'tis a pity, — & there's the end of it, — there's no more to 
be said. This is a high class of minds, — a class with which I have much, but by no 
means entire sympathy." 23 

The close relationship of Emerson and Francis is shown in the conspicuous 
appearance of Francis in Emerson's journals and letters, there being about fifty 
references to him. Most of these were in regard to meetings of the Transcendental 
Club and ministerial associations, records of those to whom Emerson sent his 
published books and essays, and accounts of books borrowed from and lent to 
Francis. 24 Evidences from all quarters show that Emerson had a genuine respect for 
Francis, enjoyed conversing with him, and valued his help in literary enterprises; but 
it was books and the ideas they inspired that joined Francis and Emerson most 
closely and were at the foundation of their mutual admiration. A historian of 
Watertown, while telling of the visits Emerson made to Francis at his Watertown 
home, said that Emerson and Francis were bound by Plato. 25 This is somewhat true, 

32 Concord Saunterer 

but even allowing for Francis's great love for Plato, and his partiality to philosophi- 
cal idealism, this is an over-simplification: they were bound quite as much by 
Carlyle, Goethe, Coleridge and other such writers of ideas. It was a natural and 
commonplace thing for Francis and Emerson to discuss authors of substance, and 
to give and lend each other books. Emerson introduced Francis to the works of 
Carlyle, and on 30 April 1 835, when Emerson wrote to Carlyle about the prospects 
of success in publishing Sartor Re sartus in America, he named Francis as one of the 
few "scholars" and "spiritualists" who loved him dearly and would work heartily 
on his behalf. 26 On 14 October 1835, Francis wrote to Emerson to thank him for 
sending him a copy of Sartor Resartus. He was ecstatic over Carlyle ("the most 
wonderful apparition of our age"). Francis also thanked him for the loan of The 
Examination of Shakespeare, which seemed to him to be inferior to The Imaginary 
Conversations. 21 In the autumn of 1837, Emerson engaged C. C. Little & James 
Brown to publish Carlyle 's The History of the French Revolution, and knowing of 
Francis's, interest in Carlyle, he had the publishers send him a publication circular. 
(L, 2: 99) After Emerson had put Carlyle 's Critical and Miscellaneous Essays 
through the press in in 1838, he wrote to Carlyle of their indebtedness to Francis: 
"To one other gentleman I have brought you in debt, — Rev. Convers Francis . . . who 
supplied from his library all the numbers of the Foreign Review from which we 
printed the work. We could not have done without his books, and he is a noble 
hearted man who rejoices in you." 28 Again, remembering Francis's interest in 
Carlyle, Emerson had the publisher send Francis a publication circular (JMN, 8: 

Emerson and other of Francis's friends — e.g., A. Bronson Alcott, 
Theodore Parker, and Mrs. Sarah Ripley — made use of Francis's enormous library 
of 7,000-8,000 carefully selected volumes with an inordinate number of rare and 
esoteric books in it. 29 When Margaret Fuller wanted Emerson to send her a copy of 
a work of Plato, Emerson wrote her on 1 8 January 1839 that he was sending a copy 
of the Banquet, but, he said, "Dr. Francis, I believe, has the Cousin version, & I can 
get it of him if you like it better than this Greek English" (L ,2: 179). Francis freely 
lent his books to his friends, but now and then became upset when they did not get 
back to him on time. Once, before Emerson got his own copy of James Philip 
Bailey's Festus, he borrowed a copy of the scarce novel from Francis. Having read 
it, he sent it by Lidian to Elizabeth Peabody at her bookstore in Boston so that she 
might pass it on to Margaret Fuller. In a letter to Margaret, Emerson recounts the 
drama of Francis retrieving his book: "As she [Lidian] entered the door at West 
Street., she heard Mr. Francis say, Miss P., where is my Festus. 'Here,' answered 
my most coincident queen with great contentment. She however begged that it 
might go to you. Dr. Francis said he wanted it now, & could easily let you have it 
& would at another time soon. How shall a book be forwarded to you? If you say 
so, I will write to him that you wish it for the Dial notice & he will send it me" (L, 

Guy R. Woodall 33 

2: 435-36). The natural and generous spirit of Emerson and Francis presenting each 
other with books may be seen in Emerson's letter to Francis on 1 1 April 1847: 

I have never acknowledged your real kindness in procuring for me the 
desired "Price on Providence," which you left so much after the 
manner of the angels at my door, one day, — as I have been constantly 
in expectation of meeting you either in Boston or Cambridge. Mean- 
time I beg you accept a couple of little books which I believe were 
among those you noted on Mr [Charles] Lane's shelves, [John] 
Norris' Translation of Waring's Amoris Effigies; and Taylor's Two 
Treatises on Proclus. I wish they were of more importance or came 
nearer in value to the book you brought me, & which I had looked for 
without success. My aunt is, I am sure, greatly pleased for her part. (L, 

Emerson often made Francis gifts of his own published works; e.g., Nature 
(1836), which Francis knew about while it was being written; 30 Oration delivered 
before the Phi Beta Kappa Society at Cambridge. August 21 1837; Address before 
the Senior Class in Divinity College, Cambridge, July 15, 1838, which Francis 
heard and later discussed with Emerson; and Oration Delivered before the Literary 
Society of Dartmouth College, July 24,1838 ("Literary Ethics") (/MN, 12: 181-83). 
After his Essays was published in the middle of March 1 84 1 , Emerson sent Francis 
an autographed copy (JMN, 7: 56), which Francis immediately read and praised for 
the sententiousness, substance, suggestiveness, rich and allusive diction, and 
organic structure of the essays. Francis, however, predicted that from some quarters 
there would be objections to the essays (J,2: 255). He found as much pleasure in 
Emerson's Essays: Second Series (1844) as he did in the first volume. On 28 
December 1 844, he wrote in his journal: "Am reading the new volume of Emerson's 
Essays: how nobly and beautifully he speaks out from a world, which seems to be 
all his own! such an exquisite master of English expression is nowhere else to be 
found. I have tried in vain to analyze his mind: does it not defy analysis?" (/, 2: 256). 
Emerson also presented Francis with a copy of the first edition of his Poems ( 1 847). 
It seems likely that Francis, up to the time of his death, read almost everything that 
Emerson wrote, and in the vast inventory of books that Francis left in his library at 
his death, there were, in addition to the presentation copies already mentioned, first 
editions of the following: Sermon at the Ordination of the Rev. Chandler Robbins 
with a Poem by R. W. Emerson ( 1 833); The Dial, Vol. II ( 1 842); Address Delivered 
in Concord, 1 August 1844 on the Anniversaiy of the Emancipation of the Negroes 
in the British West Indies (1844); English Traits (1856); Celebration of the 100th 
Anniversary of Robert Burns by the Robert Burns Club, January 25, 1859 (contains 
a speech by Emerson and poems by Whittier, Lowell, and Holmes)( 1 859); and The 
Conduct of Life (I860). 31 

34 Concord Saunterer 

The platform lectures of Emerson, as well as books, linked the two men. 
Francis attended many of Emerson's lectures over a span of thirty years, and in most 
instances wrote his impressions of the lectures in his personal journals. On many 
occasions Emerson had tickets to his lectures sent to Francis gratis. The first lecture 
of Emerson that Francis attended was on 16 February 1837 at the Boston Masonic 
Temple. He heard him on "Ethics," the ninth discourse in the "Philosophy of 
History" series. He was charmed by Emerson's "beautiful thought and expression," 
"hearty truthfulness & the simplicity of of a far seeing soul." He found Emerson's 
style "fragmentary & sententious," wanting "the requisite words or phrases of 
connection and transition from one thought to another; but has unequalled precision 
and beauty in single sentences." Noticing Emerson's humor and optimism, Francis 
said that Emerson said, among other things, "that young persons were apt to have 
a diseased love of speculating on questions, which the mind in a pure and healthy 
state of action does not care enough about to recognize at all. — such as original sin, 
the origin of evil, etc. These things, he said, were the 'mumps, measles, & whooping 
cough of the soul"'(/, 2: 247-48). At the beginning of his second course of lectures 
on "Human Culture," delivered at the Masonic Temple in Boston between 6 
December 1837 and 7 February 1838, Emerson sent Francis tickets for the series 
(JMN, 5: 263-64). After the opening lecture, "Introductory," Francis wrote his 
impressions on 6 December 1837: 

Like all the lectures, sermons and writings of Mr. E., it was as a rich strain of 
music from the upper air. His fault is that of too quick and easy generalization, — 
the natural fault of a mind that dwells habitually on ideas and principles. But 
every sentence in it was a gem of thought. His description of the ideal, the 
universal aspiration of the better, — was admirable, and what some of his 
statements are is not clear. He was perpetually opening such rich, lofty, far 
reaching veins of thought that we sat breathless, as it were & the mind ached 
with pleasure in following him. The commonness & quaintness of some of his 
illustrations threw a peculiar coloring of homely wisdom over parts of the 
lecture, wh[ich] yet blended finely with the elevated spirituality of the whole. 
Nothing surprises me more than the inexhaustible beauties of Mr. E's style; 
you listen, expecting that, as in other men's writing, so in his an ordinary 
sentence, will occur at least now and then; but it never comes; every sentence 
is a perfect one; showing the unconscious artist, as the most trifling turns in 
a fine statue show the master hand of a true sculptor. To hear Mr. E. & to see 
the varying expressions of his heavenly countenance, while truth radiates 
from him, rather than is uttered by him, seems like breathing a better 
atmosphere than of this world. 

"L argior hie campos aether et lumine vestit. 

"Purpureo, solemque suum, sua, sidera norunt." 

(J, 2: 250) 32 

Guy R. Woodall 35 

On Monday, 1 1 December, shortly after writing his impressions of the introductory 
lecture in his journal, he gave Henry Hedge a lengthy account of it, which differed 
only slightly from the one he had recorded in his journal. 33 

Francis attended Emerson's other weekly lectures in the "Human Culture" 
course and wrote his reflections upon each one. Of the "Doctrine of the Hands," 
given 13 December 1837, he said: "It was less philosophical, less transcendental, 
(as talkers of the day would say) than the first lecture; it was full of all pithy, quaint, 
humorous, & serio-comical remarks & illustrations, abounding in truth and wis- 
dom; I would suppose practical men (as they are called) must have liked it better 
than most of Mr. E's lectures" (/, 2: 250). After the sixth lecture, "Being and 
Seeming," Francis took issue with Emerson for applying a too narrow transcenden- 
tal criterion while judging Sir Walter Scott. He noted his "debate" with Emerson in 
a journal entry of 10 January 1838: 

But after the lecture, I had some debate with him for saying that Walter Scott 
was not real, but acted the fine gentleman. The spiritual men, I find, are not 
disposed to do justice to Scott, because he lived so in the phenomenal, the 
outward; they will not allow him to be a true man, because he was not what 
they require. But why was not his development as true, hearty and real, as if 
he had been a spiritualist. He had as much reality, though it was different. I 
hold Scott to have been as true a man as Coleridge. (J, 2: 250) 

During February and March, 1838, Francis attended five of Emerson's 
lectures in Cambridge, some of which he had heard only a short time before in 
Boston. Beginning on 14 or 15 February, he heard Emerson lecture in successive 
weeks on "Doctrine of the Hands," "The Head," "The Heart," and "Heroism." As 
he had done previously, he wrote his impressions of Emerson's performances in his 
journals. The lectures were variously characterized as "fresh and beautiful," "full 
of lofty and far reaching views" and "power of truth," "felicitous sketching," "noble 
and beautiful," and "grand in accordance with ... the subject"(/, 2: 251-52). The 
next lecture that Francis heard Emerson deliver was "Holiness," on 28 March 1 838 
(previously given in Boston on 31 January 1838 at the Masonic Temple). He was 
not sure of all that Emerson said in the lecture, but he did not agree with some who 
said that in the lecture Emerson denied the personality of the Deity and bordered 
upon atheism. Although he had no quarrel with Emerson on the Deity, he did 
question the idea of man's losing his identity after death by a re-mergence with the 
All — if this is what Emerson had meant. "I thought that in one passage of the 
lecture," said Francis, "he seemed to take away the distinct, individual existence of 
man, as a conscious being, after death and resolve him into the All, the Divine Soul: 
but my impression is probably erroneous. I wish exceedingly to see Mr. E. in private 
& hear him expound these matters more with all the sweet charm of his delightful 
conversation" (J, 2: 25 1-52). Ellis Gray Loring might have been one of those whom 
Francis had in mind who were disposed to believe that Emerson was an atheist. After 

36 Concord Saunterer 

the lecture Francis talked to Loring about what he thought Emerson had said. 
Loring, in turn, questioned Emerson about the nature of the Deity and reported that 
Emerson "does not believe, or rather he positively disbelieves in anything outside 
of himself. He carries idealism to the extreme; consequently if there is a God, he is 
God. God & he are one." Loring further said that Emerson allowed the possibility 
that "all minds might beat with one pulsation, as to be one & lose all (identity) 
consciousness." 34 

A far more controversial lecture than the one on "Holiness" was Emerson ' s 
address at the Divinity School in Cambridge a few months later. On a trip to Concord 
to preach on 23 September 1 838, Francis had the opportunity to talk with Emerson 
in detail about the highly controversial "Divinity School Address" of 15 July 1838, 
which had brought down upon him the wrath of Unitarian orthodoxy, particularly 
that of the Boston Association of Congregational Ministers. Francis had been 
present when Emerson delivered the address and disagreed with parts of it, but still, 
as the journal account of his conversation with Emerson shows, Francis's respect 
for Emerson was only a little short of adulation: 

September 22 [1838], Returned to Mr. Emersons, & spent the night. There 
was abundance of good talk. wh[ich] I hardly know how to report. What a 
pure, noble, loving, far-reaching spirit is Mr. E.! When we were alone, he 
talked of his Discourse at the Divinity School, & of the obloquy it had brought 
upon him: he is perfectly quiet amidst the storm: to my objections and remarks 
he gave the most candid replies, though we could not agree upon some points: 
the more I see of this beautiful spirit, the more I revere and love him; such a 
calm, steady, simple soul always looking for truth & living in wisdom, & in 
love for man, and goodness, I have never met. Mr. E. is not a philosopher, so 
called, not a logic-man, not one whose vocation it is to state processes of 
argument; he is a seer who reports in sweet and significant words what he 
sees; he looks into the infinite of truth, & records what there passes before his 
vision: if you see it as he does, you will recognise him for a gifted teacher; if 
not, there is little or nothing to be said about it & you will go elsewhere for 
truth: but do not brand him with the names of visionary, or fanatic, or 
pretender, he is no such thing, — he is a true, godful man, though in his love 
of the ideal he disregards too much the actual. (/, 2: 252) 

Even before talking to Emerson about the Divinity School address, Francis 
had written their mutual friend Henry Hedge in Bangor, Maine, about it on 10 
August, summarizing the lecture, approving of it, and reporting the negative 
reaction of the Divinity School administration and the conservative Boston and 
Cambridge ministers. 

Have you heard that Waldo Emerson delivered the sermon this summer to the 
class at the Divinity School, on their leaving the seminary? I went to hear it, 

Guy R. Woodall 37 

& found it crowded with stirring, honest, lofty thoughts. I don't know that 
anything of his has excited me more. He dwelt much on the downfallen state 
of the church, i.e., the want of a living, real interest in the present Christianity 
(where I think he rather exaggerated, but not much), on the tendency to make 
only a historical Christ, separated from actual humanity, — & on the want of 
reference to the great laws of man's moral nature in preaching. These were his 
principal points, & were put forth with great power, & sometimes (under the 
first head especially) with unique humor. The discourse was full of divine 
life, — and was a true word from a true soul. I did not agree with him in some 
of his positions, & think perhaps he did not make the peculiar significance of 
Jesus so prominent as he ought, — though I am inclined to believe not that he 
thinks less of Jesus than others do, but more of man, every man as a divine 
being. — The discourse gave dire offense to the rulers at Cambridge. The dean 
& Mr. Norton have pronounced sentences of fearful condemnation, & their 
whole clique in Boston & Cambridge are in commotion. The harshest words 
are not spared, & "infidel" & "atheist" are the best terms poor E. gets. I have 
sometimes thought that to Mr. E. & his numerous detractors might be applied 
what Plato says of the winged soul, that has risen to the sight of the absolute, 
essential, & true, & therefore is said by the many to be stark mad. — the 
multitude are not aware that he is inspired. 35 

Later, on 12 November 1838, he wrote a sequel to Hedge in which there are some 
passages on Emerson as a seer, echoing his earlier journal entry: 

You know of course what a hubbub there has been here about Emerson's 
discourse, — an excitement which, whether right or wrong, has been, it seems 
to me, wholly disproportionate to the occasion. But the truth was the fluid of 
malignity had been collecting a good while, & needed but a slight point of 
attraction to draw it down on E's head. His popularity, especially among the 
brightest of young people, had become very annoying to the dii majores of the 
pulpits & Divinity School; — no sooner was the overt act of printing some 
thing, that would not lie peaceably in the topic-holes of their minds, commit- 
ted, than as if by general consent among them there was an outbreak of wrath, 
the hotter for having been smothered. The Discourse itself did not seem to me 
adapted to excite any turmoil, except from certain expressions or rather 
thoughts, which seem almost as if chosen for offense. On the whole I like it 
rather well; but there are quite debatable things in it; & — as usual with him, 
a want of adequate appreciation for the Christian elements in the world's 
culture. — E., you know, is not a man, who can well justify his own processes 
of thought to another person — i.e. is not a man of logic: he is a seer who looks 
into the infinite, & reports what he sees; — if you like the report & agree with 
him, all the better; — if not, 'tis a pity, — & there's an end of it, — there's no 
more to be said. This is a high class of minds, — a class with which I have 
much, but by no means an entire sympathy. 36 

38 Concord Saunterer 

Ten years later, in 1849, as Francis was reading Plato's Phaedrus, he was 
reminded again that Emerson was of that race of seers or inspired men who 
occasionally come along to speak great truths and are not commonly understood (/, 
2: 259). But at the Divinity School, Dean John Gorham Palfrey and Professor Henry 
Ware, Jr., and the Boston Association of Ministers, unlike Francis, could never 
think of Emerson as a seer or inspired bringer of new thoughts. The controversy over 
the Divinity School Address went on for some time, and Francis, Emerson's 
partisan, observed it with interest. Writing to Theodore Parker on 1 January 1839, 
Francis said: "Have you seen the notice in the Boston Recorder of Emerson's 
Cambridge Address? While the Unitarians are inflicting their censures and vitu- 
perations upon him, it is amusing to see the Orthodox defending him. The writer 
claims him, and the transcendentalists in general, as fast approaching the orthodox 
standard — and rebukes H. Ware and the Dean, for their castigations of Mr. 
Emerson. I like the piece much." 37 

Emerson sent Francis tickets for his next course of lectures, the "Human 
Life" series, read at the Masonic Temple in Boston between 5 December 1838 and 
20 February 1839 (JMN, 12: 265-66). About this series Francis wrote to Hedge: 
"Emerson is about to commence another course of lectures in Boston, — to make the 
experiment whether he can get an audience, or is henceforth to be out of the lecture 
room: — if so, he says, he still has his pen & study, & can give the world the written, 
if not the spoken word." 38 Francis did not use the tickets during the first half of the 
series, but did attend the fifth, seventh, and eighth lectures in January and February: 
"Genius," "Tragedy," and "Comedy." Of the first two he recorded glowing 
impressions: "a strain of inspiration," "lofty and sweet," "a succession of best things 
in condensed sentences," "full of good thoughts," "wisdom happily expressed"; 
however, he was not quite so pleased with "The Comic": "It gave me on the whole 
but little satisfaction; the philosophy seemed not quite sound, & the illustrations & 
anecdotes were not so piquant and striking as his usually are. One, whose thoughts 
are usually so rich and beautiful, can afford to fail once in a while: it is rare with him" 
(/, 2: 253-54). If, however, Francis was not quite pleased with "The Comic," he was 
delighted with "The Protest," which Emerson delivered a few weeks later, 1 6 March 
1839, at the Rumford Institute at Waltham. It was, Francis wrote, "a most 
remarkable exposition of the disposition in young & ardent minds, in asserting 
freedom, to protest against existing things. I have scarcely heard anything from E. 
wh[ich] I liked so well" (/, 2: 254). 

In the autumn of 1839 Emerson sent Francis tickets for his next course of 
lectures, "The Present Age," which began on 4 December at the Masonic Temple 
in Boston. Because of his busy schedule Francis was not able to attend the first of 
these lectures, but he got regular reports on them and maintained a lively interest, 
as one of his letters to Parker shows: 

Thank you much for your graphic account of Emerson's lecture, and its 

Guy R. Woodall 39 

effects on various hearers. I shall keep this account in my gallery of 
intellectual pictures. Bancroft and Brownson are to the life: but then how the 
former must have been dashed with the eulogium on Goethe, which I 
understand followed in a subsequent lecture. Emerson, I suspect, overstrains 
the point about the German Coryphaeus and is not quite consistent with 
himself. Is it not so? — I am afraid I shall not be able to attend more than one 
or two of Emerson's lectures this winter, owing to various engagements, not 
because my love of hearing him is not as strong as ever. But I have good 
accounts of the lectures from a young friend, and to these I add the form, 'the 
human face divine,' the gas-light &c, and so I have the whole after a fashion 
at least. 39 

There is no record of Francis attending any of these lectures except the final 
one, "Tendencies," on 12 February 1840. It was, Francis said, "full of good things, 
especially some keen remarks on the common foolish notion about consistency, said 
this consistency was the 'hobgoblin of little minds.' There was more humor in this 
lecture than usual" (/, 2: 254). The next account of Francis hearing Emerson lecture 
was on 20 November 1841, when he went to Waltham, where he "took tea" 
(probably with the Ripley s) and heard Emerson lecture on poetry. Afterwards he 
said of the lecture: "It had all his usual beauties, especially his magic felicity of 
style, — & some of his usual defects. How difficult it is to grasp and retain the 
nameless charm of that man's writing" (/, 2: 255). Francis seems not to have 
attended Emerson's series "The Uses of Great Men," also called "Representative 
Men," at the Boston Odeon between 1 1 December 1845 and 22 January 1846; but 
he kept abreast of it and wrote about Emerson's performance to Hedge: "Emerson 
is lecturing on his 'Representative Men' with all his usual charm & power, perhaps 
more than ever; the lecture on Plato is spoken of as a chef d'oeuvre." 40 Although 
Francis remained in frequent contact with Emerson through other avenues — 
including his wife's attending Emerson's lectures from time to time (/, 2: 259), he 
did not hear Emerson lecture again for fourteen years, when on 25 January 1 855, he 
heard his "Lecture on Slavery," delivered at the Tremont Temple in Boston before 
the Massachusetts Anti-slavery Society. Of the address Francis said: "[It] was 
characteristic of him, of course, — for all he writes is so admirable in parts, wise and 
true in all, yet not adapted on the whole for popular impression, though there was 
some hearty applause: — what a deep power sometimes wells out from his face!" (/, 
2: 262). 

Following the lecture on slavery, Francis did not hear Emerson again for 
three years, when he delivered "Self Possession" at Freeman Place Chapel on 7 
April 1857 in Boston. He reported on 10 April 1858 many compliments and a few 
complaints in his journal, not unlike those that he had written from time to time 

April 10, 1858 (Saturday) Went with my wife to hear R. W. Emerson lecture 

40 Concord Saunterer 

in Boston. Many years ago that strain of the poet-philosopher fell upon my ear 
often, & it always brought a charm with it. Now, after a long interval, heard 
again, it seemed just the same thing. The subject was "Self-possession"; & I 
think there was no idea wh[ich] I had not found in his lectures from 15 to 20 
years ago & and [sic] the very words were about the same. The old topics, 
subjectiveness and individuality, — we create all that we see, — we are lords of 
all that is. I had hoped to find by this time something else; but I doubt, Mr. E., 
gets or has got beyond the old thought, however good that may be. The fault 
of his manner of discussing a subject seems to be that he never makes any 
progress in the subject itself; he empties before you a box or bag of jewels as 
he goes on, wh[ich] you may take and make the most you can of; but you can 
find no progress in the subject, no opening out, expanding motion onwards, — 
but instead thereof standing still & giving the utterance that comes at the 
moment. He might as well begin anywhere else & end anywhere else, as 
where he does begin and end. The mind of the hearer has not the satisfaction 
of moving steadily on till the consummation is effected, — sweeping forward 
till the march of thought is brought to its close. (/, 2: 263) 

But such private criticism of Emerson in his journal notwithstanding, Francis never 
tired of talking with Emerson and hearing him lecture. A few months later, on 29 
September 1 858, in Concord, he heard him lecture on "Man with the Hoe." This was 
the last time he heard Emerson speak. Afterwards he wrote: 

October 2, 1858 Cattle-fairs & Agricultural shows are now the order of the 
day all over our Commonwealth. There was one at Concord, at which Mr. 
Emerson delivered the address, marked with his usual felicity of thought and 
expression; — it is quite noticeable what a practical man he is, — just what 
people think he is not. I wish I had the privilege of seeing him more than I am 
ever likely to in a world where every man has his own peculiar work wh[ich] 
drives him to the wall. (/, 2: 263) 

On the many occasions Francis went to Concord to preach he had 
opportunities for pleasant social conversation with Emerson both at the Old Manse 
and Bush, and with Sarah and Samuel Ripley at the Old Manse after they had moved 
back there from Waltham. After preaching on 23 September 1838, and spending the 
night with Emerson (when they talked about the Divinity School Address), Francis 
was delighted on the following morning with the conversation of Emerson and John 
Lewis Russell, the naturalist, who was spending a few days with Emerson. Francis 
remembered the talk in his journal: "September 23 [ 1 838]. In the morning at Mr. E's, 
we talked chiefly on matters of natural science, where Mr. Russell was continually 
giving us information and excellent remarks. I laughed heartily at Mr. Emerson in 
his arch, quiet way; Mr. R. had told us of a naturalist, who had spent much time and 
pains in investigating the habits and nature of the louse on the cod-fish; 'starry eyed 
science,' said Mr. E., 'hast thou wandered there?'" (/, 2: 252-53) Two years later, 

Guy R. Woodall 41 

on 7 November 1840, when Francis was again in Concord to preach, he spent the 
night with Emerson. Their conversation turned to subjects mainly literary and 
philosophical, and though he felt that he could not get close to Emerson in 
conversation, the visit was a good one: "November 7 [1840), Spent the night at Mr. 
Emerson's. We talked till a late hour; he read me extracts of letters from Mr. Carlyle 
about Heraud, Landor and others, — very amusing and striking from C's peculiar 
style of writing" (/, 2: 255). Emerson, in a letter of 8 November 1 840, to Lidian, who 
was visiting in Boston, gave a brief account of this visit of Francis: "Dr. Francis 
arrived last evening with Mrs. Ripley, drank tea with us, & Dr. F. spent the night & 
Mr. Rfussell] was here again today. Mrs. Alcott came and dined with them and thus 
we kept holy day. If there were any good words we will try to lay them up for you" 
(L, 2: 356). Francis tells of another pleasant social call at Concord shortly after 
Emerson had returned from his second trip abroad: 

August 5 [1848], Today went to Concord to see R. W. Emerson, who has 
lately returned from England. A charming conversation of two hours with 
him. The presence and the words of such a man are a quickening refreshment 
amidst the platitudes and the lies of the 01 TlMAOl one meets with. He told 
me much in his charming way, of the men and things of London, of Milnes, 
Macaulay, etc. but especially of Carlyle, of whom he gave graphic descrip- 
tions. He said that the authorship and literature of Carlyle were only acciden- 
tal appendages to his strong, burly, earnest, intense soul, which was made for 
action rather than for writing; he was, E. said, 'a great iron triphammer with 
an Eolian harp for an accompaniment.' — 'he works great iron machinery to 
play his piano' &c. E. went to Oxford, & was highly pleased with the scholars 
he found there; he thought well of the institution of fellowships as means of 
promoting a general and spreading intellectual culture. (/, 2: 258-59) 

Often when Francis preached at Concord he headquartered at the Old 
Manse with Samuel and Sarah Ripley. Francis and his wife, Abba, were among the 
Ripleys' oldest and most intimate friends. Sarah Alden Bradford Ripley and Abba 
Allyn had been childhood friends in Duxbury, where Sarah had been a student in a 
school taught by Abba's father, the Rev. John Allyn. On 6 October 1818 Sarah 
married Samuel Ripley, son of the Rev. Ezra Ripley, and the half brother of Mary 
Moody Emerson and the Rev. William Emerson, Ralph Waldo's father. Samuel was 
born and reared in the Old Manse, graduated in divinity at Harvard in 1804, and 
moved in 1809 to Waltham as pastor of the First Parish Congregational Church. 
After he married Sarah Alden Bradford of Boston in 1818, they lived at Waltham 
for twenty-eight years, keeping a school in addition to Samuel's preaching. Francis, 
who came to nearby Watertown to preach in 18 19, married Abba Allyn of Duxbury 
on 15 May 1822, and thereafter for twenty-three years the two families were close 
companions. During most of the Watertown years Francis exchanged pulpits with 

42 Concord Saunterer 

Samuel Ripley regularly on an average of once a month. Francis missed no 
opportunities of visiting Waltham to engage Sarah Ripley, perhaps the most 
diversely learned woman of her time, in scholarly conversation. Sarah's prodigious 
learning in all areas of literature, languages, mathematics, and science was awesome 
to her contemporaries. Writing to Henry Hedge of Sarah's amazing intellect and 
erudition, Francis said: "Mrs. Ripley is pretty well this season, — & is always 
inspiring me with good things: what a mind is that! how superior to the other female 
distinguees — Miss [Margaret] Fuller, Miss [Elizabeth] Peabody &c." 41 As with his 
other Concord friends, Francis lent and gave books to Sarah Ripley; and she in turn 
presented him with valuable books. To his and Sarah Ripley's mutual friend 
Theodore Parker, Francis wrote: "Mrs. Ripley has enriched my library with an 
ancient folio copy of the Philosophical Letters of the 'thrice noble, illustrious, and 
excellent princess, the Lady Marchioness of Newcastle.'" 42 

Early in the spring of 1846, Samuel turned the pulpit in Waltham over to 
the Rev. George F. Simmons, his son-in-law, and with Sarah moved back to the Old 
Manse, which he had left forty-five years before. Remembering his close associa- 
tion with the Ripleys in his many years at Watertown, Francis wrote with nostalgia 
to Henry Hedge: "They have a new minister at Waltham. . . . Mr. Ripley has sold 
his place and I am sad to think of breaking up all my associations with it." 43 It was 
only a short time after Samuel and Sarah moved back to the Old Manse that Francis 
wrote Sarah on 20 April 1846, and the talk turned to three of Francis's favorite 
subjects, an idyllic Concord, matters of books, and Emerson: 

You will allow my congratulations to reach your retreat, when I tell you that 
ever since you took up your march for Concord, I have found myself musing 
upon the picture of that quiet spot invaded by no profound sound, with its little 
river, & it ancient house of the fathers, as just the place in which I could wish 
to wake up some morning, & find myself fixed for the rest of my life. — 'O 
fortunatus ninium, sua si bona norint' has been ringing in my thoughts since 
I heard of your establishment in your new lodge; but then I am aware that the 
si norint is out of place here, inasmuch as you fully appreciate the blessings 
of your emancipation. 

What I would further say is, that I lately met so striking and gratifying a 
tribute to our friend Mr. Emerson, from the pen of a very distinguished French 
writer, that I cannot forbear to make you a sharer of the pleasure it gave me. 
It is from E. Quinet's recent work, 'Le Christianisme et la Revolution 
Francaise.' It is Quinet, you remember, who in company with Michlet, is 
fighting the battle for the soul's freedom in France against the Jesuits. With 
some of the French faults, he has yet a noble and far reaching spirit. This work 
gives some of the grandest and deepest views I have seen of the various 
religious sentiments in connection with human progress. The passage, to 
which I refer, is the 'Lecture on L' Amerique et la Reformation'; & as I do not 
believe you will see it elsewhere, I must send it to you entire. . . . 

Guy R. Woodall 43 

So you see Quinet adopts Emerson into the family of the world; true 
seers, — the goodly fellowship of the prophets. It is delightful to see truth & 
greatness which seems too domestic to ourselves, because we know the man, 
reaching across the ocean , & awakening such a response from one of the most 
upward & earnest spirits in old world. This is the XT 7711 (X £2 3 CLll is 

it not? 

Hoping to visit your snug eden one of these days, & stroll about in the 
freedom of your fields. 44 

Samuel died at the Old Manse on Thanksgiving evening, 1847. In the 
brief time that he lived after returning to Concord, he supplied the pulpit of the First 
Congregational Church in Lincoln. At Lincoln on the Sabbath following Samuel's 
death, 28 November 1847, Francis preached the sermon "Whether We Live or Die, 
We Are the Lord's." He was to reprise this sermon in Concord on 5 May 1856. 
Francis was irresistibly drawn to Sarah Ripley by her love of books and fathomless 
knowledge, but his respect for Samuel was considerable. "He brought to his work," 
Francis said, "an open and practical mind. His preaching was direct, earnest, plain, 
faithful. . . . There are testimonies enough to give assurance that his sermons. . . 
frequently left the most salutary and long remembered impressions." 45 

Following Samuel's death, Francis made regular visits, at least one 
annually, for the remainder of his life to the Old Manse to see Sarah Ripley, 
Emerson, and other friends in the community. It was on one of these visits, 28 July 
1855, that he and Sarah called on Emerson: 

Went with Mrs R. to R. W. Emerson's & had an altogether charming time of 
it; His brother, W. Emerson from N. York was there. R. W. E. talked a good 
deal of Thomas Carlyle with whom he corresponds, & of Miss Bacon of New 
Haven. He read a letter from the former, most characteristic and amusing, in 
wh[ich] C. complains, in his own quaint way, of his disappointment about 
Frederick the Great, of whom he is making a book & and [sic] who turns out, 
he says, to be no hero to him. (/, 2: 262) 

Another time, in August 1859, Francis recorded in his journal: 

On Wednesday, I went to Concord, spent the night at Mrs. [Sarah] Ripley's; 
called in the evening at Mr. Emerson's, who talked charmingly, among other 
things, [about?] what great things this time has done for us in giving us two 
such works as Carlyle 's Frederick, Tennyson's new poem, the 'Idyls of the 
King,' said he. (/, 2: 263) 

Sarah Ripley found Francis's company pleasant and the talk of literary matters 
stimulating, as one of her letters in May 1862 tells: 

I went to the post-office and when I got home I found Dr. Francis on his annual 

44 Concord Savnterer 

visit. In the evening we were all together in the red parlor and there was much 
laughing and talking of the young people. At last he fell back on me as I toled 
him by the mention of Leibnitz which Mr. Hedge had lately sent me and into 
the depths I am to dive, for want of smaller fish on the surface. 46 

Possibly the final visit that Francis ever made to Concord was the one to 
Sarah Ripley's that he wrote about in August 1862: 

August, 1862 At Mr. Emerson's, Mrs [Sarah] Ripley and I met a room full of 
most pleasant and high company: Mr. E. himself, — his brother William with 
his lovely wife, — Channing, Elisabeth Peabody etc— Emerson talked with 
me, (charmingly, as he always does) about the late Homeric controversy, or 
discussion about the principles of translation as applied to the Iliad, between 
Matthew Arnold & F. W. Newman. This was altogether a very bright evening. 
(/, 2: 264) 

It was only a few months after this trip to Concord and not long before his death that 
Francis spoke respectfully and for the last time in his journal about Emerson: 
"January 3, 1863. Read in the Eclectic Review a long, elaborate, would be 
philosophical article on R. W. Emerson, which interested me as coming from an 
English critic, & representing English thought about one whom we have known 
from his boyhood all the way from his growth up to fame" (7, 2: 264). Francis died 
on 7 April 1863; afterwards Sarah Ripley wrote a letter of condolence to Abby 
Francis, Convers Francis's daughter in Cambridge. Sarah remembered not only 
Abby's father, but her mother and maternal grandfather: "Your mother was my 
earliest friend, and the debt I owe your grandfather [the Rev. John Allyn] I can never 
forget. He was the morning star of culture to me and for many a day filled my 
horizon." 47 

Meetings of the Cambridge Association of Congregational Ministers 
allowed Francis many occasions for convivial visits with his Concord friends. He 
spoke of the first of these in his journal on 1 1 August 1835: "Went with Hedge to 
Concord to attend the association meeting at Dr. [Ezra] Ripley's: much good talk 
there: R. W. Emerson there; I found Mr. H. and Mr. E. were not, as I was, 
disappointed in Coleridge's Table Talk; they saw little or nothing to be blamed in 
it; talked much of Coleridge" (/, 2: 246). Francis was not always pleased when the 
time at the Association meetings was consumed in discussions of theological and 
doctrinal matters. After taking a light thrust at the Rev. David Damon for belaboring 
the subject of the Resurrection at one of the meetings, Francis, on 2 November 1 835, 
invited Henry Hedge to the next meeting of the Association at his house in 
Watertown, hinting that the meeting might be a little less doctrinal: "Next Tuesday 
they meet at my house: couldn't you put off your environment & step out here, a 
spirit among spirits? — "; and on another occasion, 12 November 1837, he wrote 
Hedge: "Today our Association met at W[illiam]. Ware's, Waltham, where the 

Guy R. Woodall 45 

hours passed away pleasantly & the talk was pleasant & more to the point than 
usual." 48 Once when Emerson was preaching at East Lexington, he proposed a pulpit 
exchange with Francis for 30 April 1837. The exchange was made, but in conse- 
quence of a visit by Margaret Fuller, he had to defer spending the preceding 
Saturday night with Francis. Having to delay the pleasure of talking to Emerson 
further about Goethe was a disappointment to Francis, but it was probably eased 
somewhat by the prospect of getting to see and talk to Emerson at a meeting of the 
Cambridge Ministerial Association on Tuesday, 8 May, at the home of the Rev. 
William Gray Swett in Lexington. In a letter to Francis on 24 April, Emerson 
anticipated meeting so that they could discuss Goethe, one of their mutual interests: 

Your remark upon Goethe seems to me just. I think he must be a very strong 
or a very weak man who can read his books with impunity, without feeling 
their influence in all his speculation. Then there is something gigantic about 
the man, measure him how you will; his field of thought is immense; his 
acquisitions right German in their variety & thoroughness, and his point of 
view always commanding. But I will not start such a lion in the corner of a 
note, but keep this game for the time when I see you. (L, 2: 72) 

Not unlike the Association meetings, the gatherings of the Transcendental 
Club provided Francis with numerous opportunities for close association with 
Emerson, Alcott, Sarah Ripley and other of his Concord friends. Between 1 836 and 
1840 Francis attended at least fifteen meetings of the Transcendental Club. He 
might have been present at others for which there are no records. Emerson was 
present at a dozen when Francis was there. At least two of the meetings were at 
Concord at Emerson's home, and one was at Francis's home in Watertown. Francis 
was one of the founding members of the Club, and as the eldest, he usually 
announced the principal topic for conversation and presided. Toward the end of his 
life, Theodore Parker thanked Francis for his contribution in the Transcendental 
Club: "I remember, with great delight, that in the conversations of the little club, 
your learning and your voice were always on the side of progress and freedom of 
thought." 49 All indications are that Francis participated vigorously, but his equanim- 
ity of spirit and ability to maintain a tangency and balance in the discussions made 
him a highly esteemed member of the group. The meetings at Emerson's were on 
1 September 1837 and in the second week of May 1840. The first of these was on 
the day following Emerson's celebrated "American Scholar" address before the Phi 
Beta Kappa Society at Cambridge on 3 1 August 1 837; and the second one was given 
to the discussion of "The Inspiration of the Prophet and Bard, the Nature of Poetry, 
and the Cause of Sterility of the Poetic Inspiration in Our Age and Country" (JMN, 
5: 373) 50 

It was at the first regular meeting of the Transcendental Club on 19 
September 1836 that Francis met Amos Bronson Alcott, later to become one of 
Concord's most colorful literary men, and formed a friendship with him. Francis 

46 Concord Saunterer 

also was present in Alcott's home in Boston for the second meeting of the Club in 
1836. There is no evidence that Francis ever called on Alcott at his home in Concord, 
though he probably did so; but he had, however, a great deal of intercourse with 
Alcott at the Transcendental Club, being present at a dozen meetings in Boston and 
elsewhere when Alcott was present. He and Alcott also met in other social settings 
from time to time. In May 1837 Alcott recorded in his diary his favorable impression 
of Francis, whom he had met a few months before at the meeting of the Transcen- 
dental Club: 

Rev. Convers Francis of Watertown called on me this week. I became 
acquainted with him at our Symposium in 1 836; he is one of our most worthy 
and sensible ministers; his learning is extensive, few men are more erudite or 
amply furnished. He hoped the time would come when I should have classes 
of young persons whose character I might form by conversation and lectures. 
I value his friendship, and his apprehension of my purpose is of great 
importance. 51 

It was about the time of this entry in his diary that Alcott wrote Emerson 
to tell him that he was interested in resuming the meetings of the Transcendental 
Club, which had been discontinued when Henry Hedge, one of the founding 
members, had moved to Bangor, Maine. Since Hedge was back in town for a visit, 
Alcott told Emerson he had talked to George Ripley and Convers Francis, and both 
wanted to renew the meetings. 52 A short time later Alcott wrote Emerson again and 
told him of a recent meeting with Francis and of his favorable impression of him. 
Alcott recognized in Francis the quality of moderation that would not allow 
discussions to become hostile or run to extremes in a gathering where differences 
of opinion were openly discussed: 

I had an agreeable evening with Mr. Francis. He seems quite free. It is pleasant 
to talk to him. He is apprehensive and casts no doubt in your way. In the 
spiritual Horolog he is an admirable balance wheel to keep all movements in 
fit order. Such men are most useful. He spoke kindly of you. And seems 
pleased with resuming the Conversations. He will be with us on Monday 
next. 53 

Others also recognized the amiable, neutral, and mollifying quality in 
Francis that made him an agreeable member of any gathering where divergent ideas 
were likely to be discussed. Octavius Brooks Frothingham was only one of many 
who acknowledged his generous spirit that was "free of intellectual prejudices and 
dogmatism." 54 With some humor, a correspondent to the Boston Columbian 
Centinel once spoke of Francis's ability to make peace at a dinner party. 55 Francis 
now and then disagreed with Alcott in discussions in the meetings of the Transcen- 
dental Club, but their differences apparently never strained their friendship. In a 

Guy R. Woodall 47 

letter to Francis on 9 September 1838, Alcott's warm feeling for Francis, no less 
than his own evangelistic fervor in the Transcendentalist cause, is seen as he 
summons Francis to a meeting of the "Symposium": 

At our last meeting, we adjourned to meet at my house on Wednesday next. 
I hope nothing will hinder you from meeting with us. The children of Light 
must needs have concert to dispel the darkness which ever blinds the eye of 
the ages. There are too few in our day: and wisdom shall suffer the absence 
of a single member of her shining Circle. Hope you will come early. 56 

Perhaps one of the highest tributes that Alcott ever paid to Francis was in listing him 
with the few "Living Men" of the time who were "philosophical," "potent," "free 
and the brave," "by whom great principles are honored among us." 57 

Francis appreciated Alcott, but faulted him for sometimes riding his 
hobbyhorse of subjectivism too much. While laying great importance on intuitive 
thinking , Francis usually demanded more tangible evidence than Alcott was willing 
or able to provide. For instance, at a meeting of the Transcendental Club at George 
Ripley's on 22 May 1839, the position and character of Jesus in the world's history 
was discussed. Francis differed with Alcott and Emerson who asserted that there 
was no such thing as a struggle or combat in human consciousness. Alcott was 
disappointed that Francis and others did not readily accept his intuitive and unique 
ideas, which prompted Francis, in a letter to Theodore Parker, to express his view 
that Alcott sometimes expressed himself divinely but to the point of monotony: 

Alcott sang the same monotone which he always sings — obstinately ignoring 
everything but his own view, but 'musical as is Appollo's lute. ' How divinely 
he sometimes expresses himself: but the more I hear him, the wider I think my 
difference from him. He and Emerson denied the fact of anything such as a 
struggle or combat with sin in the phenomena of human consciousness. I 
cannot understand such an opinion except from their subjective pecularities. 58 

But neither Alcott's insistence upon talking on what he wanted to nor his excessive 
subjectivism kept Francis from appreciating him, as a journal note indicates: 

January 1 6, 1 837 . Dined at Mr. T' s, 59 whose daughter told me of the meetings 
for Conversation at Mr. Alcott's school-room, and how gloriously he talked. 
Mr. T. said his daughter was one of a knot of transcendental young ladies, to 
which she replied, she did not know the meaning of that, but she loved to hear 
Mr. Emerson lecture, & Mr. Alcott talk — I commended her taste. (/, 2: 247) 

After the Club meeting at Alcott's home in Boston, on 3 October 1836, Francis 
complimented Alcott's remarks on the topic of the evening, saying they were 
"admirable" (/, 2: 246). 

48 Concord Saunterer 

Following the demise of the Transcendental Club, Emerson and Alcott 
founded the Town and Country Club. In its brief existence, Francis might have been 
associated with them in it (JMN, 11: 77-79), although, curiously, Francis's name 
does not appear in Alcott' s printed letter naming the members. 60 It is possible that 
Francis, in his new position as Professor of Divinity at Harvard, wanted to avoid the 
stigma of being associated again in a public way with so many former members of 
the Transcendental Club, but more than likely his heavy work load at Cambridge 
made active participation impossible. As was the case between Francis and 
Emerson, books were a bond between Francis and Alcott. Francis charged books out 
of the Harvard library for Alcott (who could not sign out books, not being connected 
to the college). 61 Francis once lent Alcott his "rare" copy of Dr. Henry More 's poems 
when Alcott wanted to translate More's "Cupid's Conflict" (1647) for submission 
to The Dial (L, 2: 406). Besides books, another tie of friendship between Alcott and 
Francis was Francis's wife, Abba, who in her maiden years had been one of Alcott 's 
wife's teachers. In a summary of her life, Mrs. Alcott (nee Abigail May) remem- 
bered: "I did not love to study, but books were always attractive. In 1819 I went to 
pass a year with Miss [Abba] Allyn of Duxbury (daughter of Rev. John Allyn, the 
parish minister), who assisted me in reviewing my studies; and with her I studied 
French, Latin, botany, read history extensively, and made notes on many books, 
such as Hume, Gibbon, Hallam's Middle Ages, Robertson's Charles V, etc." 62 

Alcott's report in his diary in May 1837 that Francis encouraged him to 
have a school for forming the character of children through the conversational 
method may be believed, but Francis held little hope for the success of another 
school that Alcott and some of his Transcendentalist friends planned several years 
later. In the spring of 1 842 Alcott went to England to see Alcott House, a London 
school named in his honor, and to share his educational theories. When he returned 
to America a year later, he brought with him two idealistic reformers, Charles Lane 
and Henry G. Wright, who with Alcott wanted to start another experimental school. 
Having been warned of Alcott's companions by Carlyle, Emerson declined support- 
ing the project when Alcott began soliciting financial assistance. There is no proof, 
however, that he asked Francis for help, though he likely did so. In any case, Alcott 
brought Lane by Cambridge to introduce him. Francis was favorably impressed 
with Lane, but in a letter to Henry Hedge on 24 January 1843, he, who was nearly 
always skeptical of idealistic schemes of education and reform, predicted that they 
would fail in their enterprise: 

Then the Transcendentalists have another vocation, & fain would fill their 
philosophical mission. You know perhaps that Mr. Alcott brought over with him 
from England two of the 'Apostles of Newness," Mr. Lane & Wright. He called 
on me with the former the other day, & I was much pleased with him, a straight 
forward sort of man, of highest philosophy, but no flummery apparently, & with 

Guy R. Woodall 49 

considerable literature. Mr. Wright I have not seen; but we may perhaps judge what 
he is from Alcott's remark, that Mr. W. speaks out plainly what he himself has been 
stammering for some time. These men talk of a school; but it will not succeed, if 
they try it. 63 

Francis was on other occasions an interested observer of some of the 
projects of his Transcendentalist friends, but was doubtful of their success. When, 
for example, the Brook Farm experiment was in the planning stages, he wrote to 
Hedge on 23 January 1840 of his doubts of its final success, doubts that he possibly 
shared with Emerson and Alcott: 

The latest heresy that is going, I believe, is Geo. Ripley's plan for a new sort of 
colony or settlement. It is his, because he seems to be the leader — the duxfacti. I 
do not well understand what the plan amounts to, having no good opportunity of 
asking him; but I should think it more than an attempt to carry on farming & 
schoolkeeping, combined together, on a large plan. Some 10 or 12 families are to 
unite, a considerable portion of whom are practical, worrking farmers, — the other 
such persons as G. Ripley & wife, G. Bradford, Mr. Mack, the Cambridge teacher, 
Mr. Follen, &c. &c. — Emerson, I understand, declines joining them. Alcott was 
to have been of the number, but I hear that he will not be of the company. — I doubt 
very much the wisdom or the success of the undertaking, & do not sympathise in 
these views of the art of living, which have led to it. But surely it is an innocent, 
sober, & fair project; yet it is cried out upon by our witchfinders (alias, those who 
smell out something awfully dangerous whenever progress, or anything different 
from Mr. Norton's Unitarianism is talked of) as another transcendental insanity. 64 

If Francis did not appreciate the prospects of Brook Farm, he, as earlier evidenced, 
never entertained any doubts about the usefulness of the Transcendental Club, and 
the literary organ of the Transcendentalists, The Dial, which he wholeheartedly 
supported. He supplied books to be reviewed and extracted in it, and, not always 
with success, argued strongly for his sister, Lydia Maria Child, to contribute to it. 65 
In a letter to Theodore Parker on 18 January 1841, Francis spoke optimistically 
about the future of the Dial if the editors continued to publish such articles in the 
future as they had in the latest number. Of Emerson's "Thoughts on Art," Francis 
said the critics "may call Emerson superficial, but let them show us a better piece 
of aesthetic thinking than that if they can: and how delightfully it is said." 66 

At his death Francis's literary legacy was modest, consisting mainly of 
historical, biographical, and theological publications. 67 Being widely and deeply 
read in classical and modern literature, and proficient in most of the classical and 
modern languages, he was, however, recognized by his contemporaries as a scholar 
of the first rank. But for all of his erudition, he seems to have exerted little or no direct 
influence upon the specific thought of Emerson and Alcott. As their friend and 

50 Concord Saunterer 

advocate, however, he helped to create a more receptive atmosphere that allowed 
their heterodox ideas to be heard with less prejudice. It was his amiable nature and 
ability to placate diverse philosophical factions and establish a climate of modera- 
tion that secured his appointment as the Parkman Professor of Divinity and the 
Pastoral Care at the Divinity School at Cambridge in 1842, when the Unitarians 
were quite divided into liberal and conservative camps. 68 Lydia Maria Child 
remembered her brother's liberal influence on those about him as one of his most 
singular traits, and one for which he was not appreciated as much as he should have 
been. 69 Caroline Healey Dall, a close observer of the activities of the Unitarians, the 
Transcendentalists, and the academic community at Cambridge, recalled Francis's 
liberalizing influence upon those about him as probably his most salient feature. 70 
Octavius Brooks Frothingham, who knew Francis well, remembered him "as a 
stimulator of thought, as a reservoir of extra-Christian erudition" whose influence 
was felt throughout the Unitarian brotherhood. "He was," said Frothingham, "an 
inspirer of mind, and his spirit in broadening the liberal pulpit was second to none." 71 
John Weiss, a student of Francis and his successor as pastor at Watertown, observed 
after Francis's death that his liberal spirit was responsible for the more generous 
attitude of the young ministers who were presently being graduated from Harvard. 72 
No doubt his palliative influence at Harvard smoothed the way for Emerson, who 
had once been excoriated for his liberalism and all but banished from Harvard, to 
be welcomed back and even appointed as an Overseer in 1866. 

Francis's famous sister, with some humor, once told him that he was a 
"little gilded by Transcendentalism." 73 She was correct, because he never was 
committed to philosophical idealism and intuitionalism as completely as Emerson 
or Alcott. He accepted the virtue of intuition, but felt that followed to the extreme 
it could lead to mischievous ends. He once complained that his students did not 
apply themselves to hard studies because of their following the easier path of 
intuitionalism which Emerson had popularized. He wrote to Theodore Parker on 14 
April 1844: 

But there is a want of a taste for hard, thorough, manly study: this defect comes 
chiefly from two causes. 1 st the absorbing and agitating interest which is more 

and more felt in the great questions and prospects of philanthropy 2nd the 

philosophy of intuition which some greatly fancy. I mean that notion that the 
soul, by trusting to its own spontaniety, its own impulses, comes at all that is 
worth having, and that books are but fetters and encumbrances: a notion 
which certain one-sided expressions of Emerson (who however meant the 
truth in what he said) have done a good deal to invest with charm in the eyes 
of some young men. 74 

It may be remembered also that he was troubled by Alcott' s tendency to rely upon 
his intuitive views without giving enough consideration of external proofs. But 

Guy R. Woodall 51 

these differences notwithstanding, he favored the spiritualists over the empiricists, 
feeling that they had the most truth on their side (/, 2: 246-47). While clearly 
appreciating the philosophy of Transcendentalism, Francis, however, was appalled 
at the thought of being called a Transcendentalist. (/, 2: 257) 

Just as Francis never embraced in the extreme the Idealism of Alcott and 
Emerson, he never rejected the main traditions of historical Christianity — which 
might have been the reason that Emerson spoke of him as that "Thomas of slow 
belief (L, 2: 34). Among their differences, Emerson did not believe in the 
positiveness of sin, while Francis did; Emerson believed in are-mergence of the soul 
with the Oversoul after death, while Francis did not; and Emerson had little use for 
the "forms" in public worship (preaching excepted), while Francis felt that they had 
efficacy. Despite their divergent opinions, Francis, with his capacious and liberal 
spirit, never disassociated himself from Emerson, and until his own death corre- 
sponded with him, promoted his welfare, and visited him in Concord whenever he 


1 There is not a complete biography of Convers Francis. The most substantial 
sketches of his life are the three following: John Weiss, Discourse Occasioned 
by the Death of Convers Francis. D.D. (Cambridge, Mass.: Privately printed, 
1863); William Newell, "Memoir of the Rev. Convers Francis, D.D.," Pro- 
ceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society 8 (March 1865): 233-53; 
Mosetta I. Vaughan, Sketch of the Life and Works of Convers Francis, D.D. 
(Watertown, Mass.: Historical Society of Watertown, 1944). Neither has there 
been a thorough investigation of Francis ' s connection with the Concord literati, 
but there are two useful accounts of the relationship of Francis and Ralph 
Waldo Emerson: Joel Myerson's "Convers Francis and Emerson," American 
Literature 50 (March 1978): 17-36; and John McAleer's chapter "Convers 
Francis," based in a large part upon Myerson's article, in his Ralph Waldo 
Emerson: Days of Encounter (Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1984), 27 1 - 

2 For the dates, places, and some of the circumstances surrounding Francis's 
preaching, see (1) Guy R. Woodall, "The Journals of Convers Francis" (Parts 
One and Two) in Studies in the American Renaissance, ed. Joel Myerson 
(Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1981 and 1982), 265-343, 227-84, and (2) Guy 
R. Woodall, "A Calendar of the Preaching Appointments of the Rev. Convers 
Francis with a List of His Manuscript Sermons" (1982), which may be found 
at the Andover-Harvard Theological Library, Harvard University, and the 
Watertown Free Public Library. Sources cited in this article from Francis's 
"Journals" will be abbreviated in parentheses in the text as J and followed by 

52 Concord Saunterer 

the number of the Part (1 or 2) and the page number. 

3 Francis left more than one thousand sermons in manuscript. At the end of each 
sermon booklet, he recorded the date and place that he preached the sermon, 
and used abbreviations to indicate whether he had preached the sermon in the 
forenoon (FN) or afternoon (AN). Since not all of Francis's sermons survive, 
there is a good chance that he preached more in Concord than this part of his 
calendar shows. I am grateful to the Watertown Free Public Library for 
permission to quote from Francis's manuscript sermons and to use them for "A 
Calendar of the Preaching Appointments of the Rev. Convers Francis with a 
List of His Preaching Appointments" (1982). (See note No. 2 above). 

4 In late November 1844, Judge Samuel Hoar, Concord's leading lawyer, was 
sent by Governor George N. Briggs to investigate the seizing of Negroes from 
Massachusetts ships. He and his daughter were forced by an angry mob to leave 
the city. Back in Concord in late December, he gave an account of the 
humiliating experience to the Concord townspeople in a called meeting (Gay 
Wilson Allen, Waldo Emerson [New York: Penguin Books, 1982], 429-30). 

5 Ms. note no. 1 in "The Call to Reform" (No. 1066), The Francis Sermons, 
Watertown Free Public Library. 

6 Letter, Frederic Henry Hedge to Convers Francis, 5 June 1854, in Ronald V. 
Wells, Three Christian Transcendentalists (New York: Columbia U. Press), 

7 Ms. note no. 2 in "The Call to Reform." 

8 Allen, Emerson, 584-85. 

9 Letter, Convers Francis to Charles Sumner, 29 May 1856, Sumner Papers, 
Houghton Library, Harvard University. I am grateful to the Houghton Library 
for permission to quote from this and other letters in the Sumner Papers. 

10 Franklin Benjamin Sanborn and William T. Harris, A . Bronson Alcott: His Life 
and Philosophy (New York: Biblo and Tannen, 1965), 1: 265. 

1 1 Convers Francis, The Death of the Aged: A Discourse Preached to the First 
Church and Society in Concord . . .The Sabbath after the Death of their Late 
Senior Pastor. Rev. Ezra Ripley. D.D. (Boston: James Munroe and Company, 
1841), 33-35. 

12 Letter, Ebenezer Rockwood Hoar to Convers Francis, 24 January 1856, 

Guy R. Woodall 53 

Miscellaneous Manuscripts, Boston Public Library; "Minutes of the First 
Parish Congregational Church, Concord," Concord Free Public Library. I am 
grateful to the Boston Public Library and the Concord Free Public Library for 
permission to quote from these sources. 

13 Letters, Ralph Waldo Emerson to William Emerson, 14, 15, and 20 February 
1 8 19, in The Letters of Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. Ralph L.Rusk (New York: 
Columbia Univ. Press, 1939), 1: 77-78. Hereafter this collection will be 
abbreviated as L in the body of this essay and cited parenthetically with the 
appropriate volume and page number. 

14 For a full chronology of Francis's attendance at several of Emerson's lectures 
and his summaries and reflections on these, see Myerson, "Francis and 
Emerson," 17-36; McAleer,£raers<9«.,271-80; and Woodall, "Journals" (Part 
Two): 246-64. 1 acknowledge with gratitude, Professor Myerson 's kind help 
in editing Francis's journals and giving permission to quote from his article. 

1 5 Quoted in George Willis Cooke, Ralph Waldo Emerson: His Life and Writing 
and Philosophy (Boston: James R. Osgood and Company, 1882), 35, from 
Elizabeth Hoar, "Memoir of Mrs. Samuel Ripley," Worthy Women In the First 
Century (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1877). 

16 Theodore Parker, "Journal Notebooks," Vol. II (Jan. 1841 -Sept. 1853): 252n, 
in the AUA Collection (Box I [bMs 101/2]), Andover-Harvard Theological 
Library, Harvard University. I am grateful to the Andover-Harvard Theologi- 
cal Library for permission to quote from these journals. 

17 Woodall, "Calendar," 42, 49. 

18 Kenneth Walter Cameron, "Emerson's Preaching Record" in Index-Concor- 
dance to Emerson's Sermons: With Homiletical Papers (Hartford: Transcen- 
dental Books, 1963), 695-701. 

19 Woodall, "Calendar," 46-53. 

20 Letter, Convers Francis to Ralph Waldo Emerson, 8 August 1838, Emerson 
Papers (bMs Am 1280 1180), Houghton Library, Harvard University. I 
acknowledge with gratitude the permission of the Houghton Library to quote 
from this and other letters in the Emerson Papers used in this article. 

21 Letter, Samuel Ripley to Mary Moody Emerson, 25 February 1 838, quoted in 
James B. Thayer, The Rev. Samuel Ripley ofWaltham (Cambridge, Mass.: 
John Wilson & Son, 1897), 44. 

54 Concord Savnterer 

22 Letter, Convers Francis to Theodore Parker, 22-29 June 1844, Middlebury 
College. I acknowledge with gratitude the permission of Middlebury College 
to quote from this letter. 

23 Letter, Convers Francis to Frederic Henry Hedge, Hedge Papers, Bangor 
Historical Society. I acknowledge with gratitude the permission of the Bangor 
Historical Society to quote from the Hedge letters in their collection. 

24 The Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks of Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. 
William H. Gilman, Ralph H. Orth, et al., 16 vols. (Cambridge: Harvard 
University Press, 1960-82). This series will be abbreviated JMN in this essay, 
and citations will be given in parentheses with appropriate volume and page 

25 Solon F. Whitney, Historical Sketches of Watertown. Massachusetts 
(Watertown, Mass.: [n. p.], 1893), 333. 

26 The Correspondence of Thomas Carlyle and Ralph Waldo Emerson (1834- 
1872)(New York: James R. Osgood, 1883), 1: 59. 

27 Letter, Convers Francis to Ralph Waldo Emerson, 14 October 1835, Emerson 
Papers (bMs Am 1820 1116), Houghton Library, Harvard University. 

28 Correspondence of Carlyle and Emerson, 1: 173. 

29 Weiss, Discourse, 51-53; Newell, "Memoir", 242. 

30 Letter, Convers Francis to Frederic Henry Hedge, 3 1 July 1 836, Hedge Papers, 
Bangor Historical Society. Emerson finished Nature in the last week of June 
1836; it was advertised for sale on 9 September. On 31 July Francis wrote 
Hedge that Emerson was about to publish a volume "something like the book 
of Nature"; on 14 November 1836, Francis again wrote Hedge: "I have no 
room to say anything about Emerson's exquisite poem 'Nature' but I intend to 
in some future letter" (Letter, Francis to Hedge, Hedge Papers, Bangor 
Historical Society). 

3 1 Catalog of a Portion of the Libraries of the Late Rev. Convers Francis and His 
Sister Lydia M. Child of Cambridge. . . to be Sold at Auction. . . . (Boston: 
Charles F. Libbie, Jr., 1887), 25-26. 

32 Trans. "Here an ampler ether clothes the meads with roseate light, and they 
know their own sun, and stars of their own" (Aeneid, book 7,11. 640-4 1 , Virgil, 

Guy R. Woodall 55 

trans. H. Rushton Fairclough, rev. ed. [Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 
1965], 1:550-51). 

33 Letter, Convers Francis to Frederic Henry Hedge, 10, 11 December 1837, 
Hedge Papers, Bangor Historical Society. 

34 Eleanor M. Tilton, "Emerson's Lecture Schedule — 1837-1838 — Revised," 
Huntington Library Bulletin 21 (October 1973): 398; "Myerson, "Convers 
Francis and Emerson," 28n. 

35 Letter, Convers Francis to Frederic Henry Hedge, 10 August 1838, Hedge 
Papers, Bangor Historical Society. 

36 Letter, Convers Francis to Frederic Henry Hedge, 1 2 November 1 838, Hedge 
Papers, Bangor Historical Society. 

37 Letter, Convers Francis to Theodore Parker, 1 January 1839, Parker Papers, 
Massachusetts Historical Society. I acknowledge with gratitude the permis- 
sion of the Society to quote from the letters in the Parker Papers. 

38 Letter, Convers Francis to Frederic Henry Hedge, 12 November 1 838, Hedge 
Papers, Bangor Historical Society. 

39 Letter, Convers Francis to Theodore Parker, 26 December 1839, Parker 
Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society. 

40 Letter, Convers Francis to Frederic Henry Hedge, 12 January 1846, Hedge 
Papers, Bangor Historical Society. 

41 Letter, Convers Francis to Frederic Henry Hedge, 12 November 1838, Hedge 
Papers, Bangor Historical Society. 

42 Letter, Convers Francis to Theodore Parker, 22 February 1 856, Parker Papers, 
Massachusetts Historical Society. 

43 Letter, Convers Francis to Frederic Henry Hedge, 12 January 1846, Hedge 
Papers, Bangor Historical Society. 

44 Letter, Convers Francis to Sarah Alden (Bradford) Ripley, 20 April 1846, 
Houghton Library, Harvard University. 

56 Concord Saunterer 

45 Quoted in Thayer, Ripley ofWaltham, 57. 

46 Quoted in Elizabeth Hoar, Mrs. Samuel Ripley: A Sketch (Philadelphia: J. B. 
Lippincott, 1888), 212. 

47 Letter, Sarah Alden Ripley to Abby Francis, 30 November [1863], Sarah 
Bradford Ripley, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College. I acknowledge with 
gratitude the permission of the Schlesinger Library to quote from this letter. 

48 Letter, Convers Francis to Frederic Henry Hedge, 2 November 1835; and 11, 
12 December 1837, Hedge Papers, Bangor Historical Society. 

49 Theodore Parker, Life and Correspondence of Theodore Parker, ed. John 
Weiss (New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1864), 2: 266-67. 

50 Joel Myerson, "A History of the Transcendental Club," ESO: A Journal of the 
American Renaissance 23 (1st Quarter 1977), 29. 

5 1 Sanborn and Harris, Alcott, 1 : 267-68. 

52 Letter, A. Bronson Alcott to Ralph Waldo Emerson, 9 May 1 837, The Letters 
ofA.Bronson Alcott, ed. Richard L. Herrnstadt(Ames: Iowa State Univ. Press), 


53 Letter, A. Bronson Alcott to Ralph Waldo Emerson, 24 May 1 837, Herrnstadt, 
Letters, 33. 

54 Octavius Brooks Frothingham, Boston Unitarianism, 1820- 1850: A Study of 
the Life and Works of Nathaniel Langdon Frothingham (New York: George P. 
Putnam's Sons, 1890), 187-88. 

55 Columbian Centinel, 19 November 1828, 2, col. 5. 

56 Letter, A. Bronson Alcott to Convers Francis, 9 December 1838, Herrnstadt, 
Letters, 40. 

57 Odell Shepard, The Journals of Bronson Alcott (Boston: Little Brown and 
Company, 1938), 105. 

58 Letter, Convers Francis to Theodore Parker, 24 May 1839, Parker Papers, 
Massachusetts Historical Society. 

59 It is likely that this was Levi Thaxter, a friend of Francis, whose daughter Anna 

Guy R. Woodall 57 

was a disciple of and apologist for Alcott. See Sanborn and Harris, Alcott, 1: 

60 Herrnstadt, Letters, 147-48. 

61 See "Library Charging List" (UA 111/50/15.60), Harvard University Ar- 
chives, the Pusey Library, Harvard University. 

62 Sanborn and Harris, Alcott, 1 : 111. 

63 Letter, Convers Francis to Frederic Henry Hedge, 24 January 1843, Hedge 
Papers, Bangor Historical Society. 

64 Letter, Convers Francis to Frederic Henry Hedge, 23 December 1846, Hedge 
Papers, Bangor Historical Society. 

65 Letter, Lydia Maria Child to Convers Francis, 20 October 1 840, in Lydia Maria 
Child: Selected Letters, 1817-1880, ed. Milton Meltzer and Patricia Holland 
(Amherst: Univ. of Massachusetts Press, 1982), 134. Despite her reluctance to 
contribute at this time, she later contributed an essay to the to the Dial: "What 
Is Beauty?," 3 (April 1843): 158. 

66 Letter, Convers Francis to Theodore Parker, 18 January 1841, Parker Papers, 
Massachusetts Historical Society. 

67 For a guide to Francis's publications, see Guy R. Woodall, "Convers Francis," 
in The Transcendentalists: A Review of Research and Criticism, ed. Joel 
Myerson (New York: The Modern Language Association, 1984), 167-70. 

68 Newell, "Memoir," 240-41; Weiss, Discourse, 6-7. 

69 Letter, Lydia Maria Child to John Weiss, 15 April 1863, in Meltzer and 
Holland, Child: Selected Letters, 425-26. 

70 Carolyn H. Dall, Transcendentalism in New England (Boston: Roberts Broth- 
ers, 1897), 21. 

71 Frothingham, Boston Unitarianism, 187. 

72 Weiss, Discourse, 48. 

58 Concord Saunterer 

73 Letter, Lydia M. Child to Convers Francis, January 1841, in Letters ofLydia 
Maria Child, with an Autobiographical Introduction by John Greenleaf 
Whittier, 4th ed. (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Co., 1884), 40. 

74 Letter, Convers Francis to Theodore Parker, 14 April 1844, Parker Papers, 
Massachusetts Historical Society. 

Home: The futons that made Hartford famous 
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;\ '"*** 

^B 3 


Forever WILD 

ry Sherwood will not retreat from the woods, or from her war to save Wale 


len Pond 

Mary Sherwood 

Photograph by Michael McAndrews 

Courtesy of the Hartford Courant 


forever "Wild: 

A (Portrait of'WaCden "Warrior 

(Mary Sfterzvood 

Joel Lang 

[This article is reprinted from the 25 July 1993 issue of Northeast magazine with the 
permission of the Hartford Courant.] 

By coincidence, on the fourth weekend of May this year, two groups 
dedicated to preserving the intellectual legacy, as well as the habitat, of Henry David 
Thoreau, convened annual events in Concord, Massachusetts, where the naturalist 
philosopher who is often called the father of the environmental movement lived and 
wrote a century and a half ago. 

Easily, the larger of the two groups was the one known as the Walden 
Woods Project, founded in 1990 by Don Henley, the recording artist who achieved 
his fame with the Eagles rock band. Because of Henley's show business connec- 
tions and because environmentalism is a cause embraced by younger generations, 
the Walden Woods Project has been favored with a lot of celebrity supporters, a lot 
of publicity, and a lot of money. 

On Sunday, May 23, Henley led some 7 ,000 people on a fund-raising walk- 
a-thon over the paved roads of Concord town. Among the walkers were Jason 
Priestly, a heartthrob from "Beverly Hills 902 1 0"; Ed Begley from "St. Elsewhere"; 
and Sarah Jessica Parker from "Honeymoon in Vegas." 

The walk-a-thon added to the roughly $6 million Henley's organization 
has raised, leveraged, and borrowed to buy back from developers large sections of 
the 2,600-acre Walden Woods that were in imminent danger of being cleared for a 
condominium complex and an office park. As preservation efforts go, the Walden 
Woods Project is a quick bloomer. Most recently, it acquired a 16-room Georgian 
mansion that will be turned into a Thoreau conference center. 

THE CONCORD SAUNTERER, N.S. Volume 1, Number 1, Fall 1993 

62 Concord Saunterer 

The privately owned portion of Walden Woods targeted by Henley's 
group, however, does not contain Walden Pond, the 1 00-foot-deep, still clear glacial 
lake that was the epicenter of Thoreau's writings. Presumably, Walden Pond has 
not needed protection since 1922, when several Concord families, including 
descendants of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who was Thoreau's mentor and, like him, 
regarded as one of America's greatest literary geniuses, deeded the pond and 200 
surrounding acres to the Commnonwealth of Massachusetts. 

The gift may have made Walden safe from commerce, but it did not make 
it safe from humanity. Until 10 years ago, when access was restricted, as many as 
35,000 people on hot summer weekends descended on Walden, crowding its 
artificially enlarged beach, trampling its steep and fragile slopes. The pond — 
perhaps the single most important body of water in western culture — had become 
a very popular public recreation area. 

Now, with parking banned along the two state highways that run annoy- 
ingly close to the pond, it supposedly can be used by no more than a thousand people 
at a time. State overseers, however, cannot guarantee that limit and many people — 
mainly those who are more likely to be interested in Thoreau than in outdoor 
frolic — believe the pond cannot withstand even its present reduced traffic. 

"Walden Pond is being loved to death," Kathi Anderson, director of the 
Walden Woods Project, says succinctly and sympathetically. But her group, she 
says, prefers to work by consensus. It has not allied itself with the second, more 
radical, Thoreau group that met in Concord in May. 

That group is called Walden Forever Wild, a name that exactly conveys its 
purpose. It wants Walden Pond State Reservation turned into a nature sanctuary 
where public use likely would be limited to the most passive forms of recreation and 
which, incidentally, would make Walden a more serene shrine to Thoreau. 

Probably as a consequence, Walden Forever Wild is a much smaller and 
much poorer organization than the Walden Woods Project — and much farther from 

In the mid- '80s, a petition drive aimed at then-Governor Michael Dukakis 
was ignored. A sanctuary bill it submitted for several years running is said to be 
viewed by even environmentally attuned lawmakers as unrealistic. Now, Walden 
Forever Wild is sponsoring an innovative and highly philosophical lawsuit that 
would force the state to protect the pond in accordance with the original deed. 

Already interpreted by the courts once, the oft-cited deed commands that 
its "sole and exclusive purpose" is to aid the state "in preserving the Walden of 
Emerson and Thoreau, its shores and nearby woodlands for the public. . . ." 

Unfortunately for Walden Forever Wild, the same deed sentence goes on 
to define the public as those "who wish to enjoy the pond, the woods and nature, 
including bathing, boating, fishing and picnicking." 

Thus Walden Forever Wild and the state are pitted in a classic environmen- 
tal battle — how can nature be at once preserved and used by human beings? As 

Joel Lang 5J 

small as Walden is and as innocent as its current uses are, it is the same battle that 
makes international headlines from the Oregon forests of the spotted owl to the rain 
forests of the Amazon. 

Cindy Ellen Hill, the young environmental attorney who is billing Walden 
Forever Wild $25 an hour, believes that at its core their suit poses an even more 
fundamental question than the one about balancing use. She sees it as a sequel to 
the Scopes monkey trial, in which the theory of evolution and man's relationship to 
animals was at issue. 

"This is not simply a matter of statutory compliance in the lead content at 
1 8 parts per million," Hill says, referring to more typical environmental cases. "This 
suit is about man's relationship to nature." 

The founder and motivating force behind Walden Forever Wild and its 
lawsuit is someone very unlike Don Henley. She is Mary Sherwood of Storrs, 
Connecticut, who proudly claims the distinction of being the first professionally 
trained woman forester in the United States. Born and raised in Hartford, she 
graduated in 1935 from the University of Connecticut. 

On May 1 , Sherwood marked her 87th birthday by spending the day the 
way she estimates she has spent half her adult life — in the woods. 

The estimate is a scrupulous one. She factors out her residence for the last 
decade in a senior citizen housing complex near the UConn campus. In her 70s, 
anticipating her return to Storrs and the onset of feeble old age, she camped out of 
a van for a year, following warm weather south from Canada to Florida. For water 
transportation she paddled a kayak, which she finally surrendered at age 73. She has 
photographs to prove it. 

Sherwood jokes that lack of space in her 2V 2 -room apartment forces her 
to live "around the edges and in the middle" of a library, accumulated over 35 years, 
of newsletters, literary journals, books and documents, nearly all having to do with 
Thoreau. In May, she had squeezed in two large cartons of Thoreau T-shirts she 
hoped to sell to raise funds for Walden Forever Wild. One style was inscribed, "In 
His will, God bequeathed Walden to Concord." Another read, "Simplify, Sim- 

The latter is an abbreviation of one of the scores of famous phrases Thoreau 
bequeathed to the world and it fits Sherwood to a T. She normally dresses in what 
appears to be very functional, and cheap, polyester clothing. She does not joke when 
she says she moved into senior citizen housing reluctantly. Appliances like a 
refrigerator made her feel, she says, "like a sissy." 

Her preferred kitchen tools are a campfire and a can opener. She still works 
out of doors many days, in a wildflower garden she is cultivating in the scrubby 
woods behind her apartment. The flesh on Sherwood's arms looks as wrinkled and 
delicate as rice paper; the grip of her handshake is strong, her palms leathery. 

During one conversation at her apartment, Sherwood spied a black ant 
crawling on her living room wall. Scolding, "I want you," she trapped the ant in her 

64 Concord Saunterer 

hand, then carried the still living and lucky insect a few steps to her front door and 
tossed it out on its antennae. Her housemate, a tiger cat simply named Kitty, 
watched with interest. 

On Saturday, May 22, Sherwood arrived at the Walden Pond 
superintendent's station alone in her blue and dented Safari van. With just two 
adherents in tow she quickly crossed Route 1 26, climbed nimbly down a precipitous 
concrete stairway to the Walden beach, and started along the worn, sandy path that 
leads around the pond's northern rim to the clearing where, from July 1845 to 
September 1847, Thoreau lived in a one-room cabin that he built at a cost of only 

$28.12V 2 . 

On her way, Sherwood paused to inspect a steep, apparently untended 
slope overgrown with wild grasses, common woodland shrubs, and young pine and 
oak. Over four seasons, in the 1980s, Sherwood directed the replanting of the slope, 
working at minimum wage, reclaiming it from sunbathers and picnickers for nature 
and Thoreau. 

Fortunately, given Sherwood's feelings about Walden, the morning was 
cool, overcast and buggy. Neither swimmers nor sunbathers were about to upset 

"It amazes me people put swimming before very valuable historical 
things," Sherwood had observed in a conversation a few days prior. "You wouldn't 
put swimming at the Taj Mahal or the Washington Monument, would you?" 

The question was purely rhetorical. To her, swimmers in Walden 's sacred 
waters are the equivalent of Hell's Angels riding unmuffled Harleys in church. 

Now, at Walden, Sherwood grew animated as she reached the hallowed 
site of Thoreau 's cabin. Nine stone posts outline its lost foundation. Waiting for 
stragglers to her Walden Pond Day ceremonies, Sherwood positioned herself 
against a post at what would have been a rear corner of the cabin and, leaning on it, 
leveled an arm across to a post opposite. 

Then, as though divining the pattern of a druid temple, she raised her arm 
toward the treetops and said, "I have a feeling Henry lined up his door with the sun. 
In March, with the leaves not out, the morning sun would have come right in his front 

A moment later it was show time for Sherwood. To an assembly that 
including herself numbered 23, she introduced a schoolteacher who lectured on 
John Muir, a folk singer who had composed a song in honor of a recently deceased 
Walden preservationist, and promised to get a refund for a blight-resistant chestnut 
tree that was to have been ceremonially planted, but had died in transit. 

(Thoreau 's present day stature is such that many historical dates relevant 
to his life and writings are noted in Concord. The Muir lecturer was on Sherwood's 
program because June 8 would mark the 100th anniversary of the naturalist's visit 
to the graves of Thoreau and Emerson. In founding the Sierra Club, Muir, a Thoreau 
disciple, took as its motto another of his famous phrases, "In wildness is the 
preservation of the world.") 

Joel Lang 65 

In the day's main event, Sherwood presented an honorific plaque to a 
tanned gentleman, dressed all in white, named J. Walter Brain. Introducing him, 
Sherwood briefly remarked that Brain had performed his service to "Thoreau and 
Walden" even though he originally was from Peru. 

In his equally cryptic acceptance speech, Brain said it was precisely 
because he was from Peru that he had done what he had done and that he wanted to 
use the occasion to celebrate "our great triumph"; one that was "perhaps the only 
victory of my life." 

Brain later explained that as a youth in Peru he was profoundly influenced 
by Thoreau 's political essays, especially "Civil Disobedience" and "Life Without 
Principle." When Brain's own politics put him in danger in his homeland, he left 
abruptly and moved directly to Massachusetts, he said, "To live as close to Walden 
as I could." 

While Brain's personal odyssey is unique — he eventually became a 
successful landscape architect — his feelings for Thoreau 's politics are not. Gandhi, 
Tolstoy, and Martin Luther King all acknowledged a similar debt to Thoreau. 

Brain's victory was essentially a political one, too. In 1988, he and three 
other men, all devoted Thoreauvians, became the first to raise the alarm that 
developers coveted Walden Woods. They organized themselves into the Thoreau 
Country Conservation Alliance and managed to stall the most imminent construc- 

Bulldozers were on the site," Brain recalled. "It was not even 1 1 o'clock; 
it was past midnight." 

But when Brain approached elite environmental groups for aid in what was 
sure to be a long battle, they demurred. As defenders of nature against mankind's 
ancient, nibbling onslaught, all had overcrowded agendas and some may have felt 
the cause was useless as well as hopeless. Walden Woods, after all, was hardly 
pristine wilderness, and some of the development included moderate income 
housing. In the end, Brain's group was helped by the collapse of the real estate 
market and by television. When two supporters went on CNN to plead their cause, 
they caught the attention of Don Henley, who responded with the Walden Woods 

In May, as Brain departed Walden Pond with Sherwood, he remarked that 
he now wished he could pick up where she left off in restoring Walden' s shores. He 
agrees with Sherwood that the state ' s efforts in that direction have been inept at best. 
Both looked with disgust at boulders that were trucked in and piled along the shore 
to prevent erosion. Sherwood's wild slope, replanted with native vegetation, is 
more what Brain had in mind. 

"Now that you've shown me how," Brain told Sherwood, he'd love to get 
to work on Walden. 

"All right, Walter," Sherwood replied, then cautioned with mild sarcasm, 
"As long as you don't do any landscaping." 

66 Concord Saunterer 

Sherwood has very definite opinions about what is right for Walden and 
Thoreau. Even her allies say her zeal and her bluntness can tumble over into 
intemperance. A prime target is the Thoreau Society, the mostly scholarly group 
that is the foremost Thoreau organization. It has 1 ,600 members worldwide. (In 
Japan there are said to be more editions of Thoreau 's writings available than in the 
United States.) Though Sherwood is a member of the Society herself, she gripes, 
frequently, that many Thoreauvians act as though "Thoreau exists only in books." 
She is annoyed at what she sees as the Society's indifference to Walden Pond. 

Walter Harding, an English professor who wrote what is considered the 
standard Thoreau biography and was secretary of the Thoreau Society for 50 years, 
assures that the society is concerned about Walden. It is hesitant, however, to 
associate itself too closely with Walden Forever Wild because, he says, Sherwood 
has a history of making untoward remarks. 

Harding, who has known her for 50 years and considers her a friend, 
confirmed one notorious incident that is still mentioned a quarter-century after it 
occurred. At an annual society meeting in Concord's First Church, Sherwood 
arrived wearing a dress made of burlap. 

"It was very pretty," said Harding. "She had trimmed it with live daisies. 
It was pretty enough to wear to a party." 

Sherwood, however, was not there to socialize. Enacting a rustic Diogenes, 
she jumped up unbidden from her seat and searched the church for an honest man 
on her way to seizing the pulpit. Before she was pulled away, she denounced several 
people in unrepeatable language. 

At the time, Harding said, Sherwood was under great strain from losing 
control of the Thoreau Lyceum, a combination reading room and visitors' center 
that she established in Concord and that still exists. Like others who know her, 
Harding commends Sherwood's efforts on behalf of Thoreau. 

"Her contributions haven' t been as spectacular as Don Henley ' s," Harding 
said. "[But] she's been working at it longer and harder than anyone else. She's sort 
of a conscience for the State Reservation people. She pretty much on her own, 
without a lot of help, went in [to Walden] and planted that slope." 

Edmund Schofield, a Ph.D. ecologist who is an adviser to Walden Forever 
Wild as well as director and a founder of the Thoreau Country Conservation 
Alliance, believes even other Walden preservation groups owe a debt to Sherwood. 

He says Sherwood's agitation during the 1980s generally kept Walden in 
the public consciousness. Her group's petition drive, which peaked during 
Dukakis ' s 1 988 presidential campaign, was especially effective. It attracted out-of- 
town reporters visiting the Democratic candidate's home state to the neglected 
Walden story. 

"Mary gave us almost a decade to think about Walden," Schofield says. 
"Without her we'd be way behind where we are now. We are all descendants of 
Walden Forever Wild." 

Joel Lang o7 

Nevertheless, Sherwood herself seems a trifle envious of the other groups. 
She won't divulge the membership of Walden Forever Wild, because she says, "If 
you don't have 250,000 people, you don't count." 

She refers to Henley, whom she's never met, by his last name and identifies 
him as "the rock concert person." 

Before Henley came along, "Everything was done on a shoestring," she 
says. "Now they have a rather snazzy office." Walden Forever Wild's office is 
Sherwood's apartment. 

When she declares herself "too old to go on walk-a-thons," her tone 
suggests that she's secretly pleased her age gives her a convenient excuse. She's 
absolutely sure she doesn't want Henley walkers anywhere near Walden. 

"I'd raise the roof [if they tried it]," she says. "The terrain's too fragile." 

The personal similarities between Sherwood and Thoreau are many. He 
advocated living simply and Sherwood never was interested in making a penny 
more than she needed to survive. He could be irascible and so, people say, can she. 
He was scornful of authority and she can't utter the words "state" or "bureaucrat" 
or "office" without an edge of contempt. If Thoreau often preferred nature's solitary 
company, she hardly was interested in any other. 

There is, however, an important difference in their backgrounds. The 
young Thoreau was privileged with a Harvard degree at a time when it was a 
virtually irrevocable passport into society's elite. Sherwood, at age 16, was sent to 
work in one of Hartford's then-humming typewriter factories. 

Sherwood says it was her father, a mailman and a descendant of an old 
Connecticut Valley family named Pasco, who, without protest from her mother, 
decided further education was a waste. 

"He was a kind, quiet man compared to some others," Sherwood says. "It 
was just the generation he was brought up in. He decided I should work until I was 
old enough to marry. 

"I think my mother recognized me as rebellious. I think it was a relief to 
her to have me taken out of school and put to work. She was a real Victorian," and, 
Sherwood admits, "I was not a lady." 

Looking back from a great distance, Sherwood is persuaded she always 
wanted to live in the woods. "I was sort of an American Indian by birth," she says, 
connecting the feeling with the vivid memory of a family cabin in what was then a 
wooded area in north Bloomfield. 

"That was my idea of paradise," Sherwood says, holding out photographs 
of the cabin. An exterior shot shows it perched on a tree-choked knoll. The interior 
shows a massive fireplace of fieldstone. "It could be that's where I got started." 

One year — she thinks it was at the end of World War I — she persuaded a 
girlfriend to go off with her to the cabin. In Sherwood's mind, she wasn't so much 
running away as moving. She planned carefully, making one big miscalculation. 
She and her companion set out in the dead of winter. 

68 Concord Saunterer 

Snow began to fall as they rode a trolley out Albany Avenue. When they 
reached Bloomfield center, they were surprised there was no horse and buggy 
waiting, as there always was in summer, to carry them and their luggage the last 
three miles to the farm where the cabin stood. They began to walk and caught a ride 
on a milk wagon. The driver did not question them, nor did the farmkeepers when 
they arrived. By now it was dark and the snow was heavy on the ground. Sherwood 
recalls that its reflected white at least helped light the path to the cabin she knew by 

"Katherine [her friend] every once in a while would sit down on a suitcase 
and cry," says Sherwood, who coaxed her on. "Inch by inch we got to the cabin. 
When we finally got there it was almost as cold inside as outside. I thought I could 
start a fire. I knew where they kept the matches. There weren't any. I expected food, 
too. There was nothing. It was a terrible shock. I dreamed of sleeping in a hammock 
in front of the fireplace." 

Undeterred, Sherwood trudged back to the farmhouse for matches and, 
still unchallenged by the farm family, returned to scavenge wood for a fire. She was 
settling in when there was a knock at the door. It was their fathers and the police. 

"Mary. Open the door," her father commanded. 

"I wouldn't," Sherwood says. "I had left a note behind saying I was going 
to live in the country. I didn't want to be rescued. They went around to the back 
door and broke it down. Katherine was such a sissy, she ran and threw herself at her 

Sherwood was tougher than that. She gathered her clothes together with 
defiant deliberateness. 

On the way back to Hartford her rescuers stopped for food. 

"One of the policemen said, 'That's just like a girl. All they want is 
something to eat.'" 

"I didn't say a word," Sherwood says, remembering 75 years later how she 
suffered the insult in proud silence. 

Her father and societal convention only interrupted Sherwood' s rush to the 
wild. During her years on the typewriter assembly line, she belonged to the YWCA, 
where the upper crust women who ran it saw in her unused potential. They arranged 
for her to live with a well-to-do family as what was then called a mother's helper 
so she could resume her high school studies. She passed years' worth of exams in 
months. When graduation approached, the ladies of the Y suggested she apply to 
places like Wellesley and Vassar. But Sherwood saw those elite women's colleges 
as too much like finishing schools. She went instead to UConn, where she studied 
forestry with Professor Albert E. Moss. 

"He was innocent himself," Sherwood says of Moss. "He had all 
intelligent women [in his family]. He just assumed people were people and did 
things. He thought he could train me and get me a job." 

Moss was wrong. At the time forestry itself was a new occupation and the 

Joel Lang 69 

idea that a woman might do a man's work in the woods was as unheard of as the 
concept of ecology. In 1935, Sherwood's bachelor of science degree certified her 
for professional frustration. Even her first encounter with Thoreau was a disap- 

The year she graduated, Sherwood spent the summer camped on the 
nearby Fenton River, taking hourly measures of such things as the water's 
temperature and turbidity. To help pass the time, she opened a copy of Walden 
someone had given her. She expected to read natural history. Instead she read 
musings about economy written by someone who rubbed her the wrong way. 

"I thought he was a sissy," Sherwood says, again using a favored term of 
derision, "because he was in a cabin and could shut the door and lock it at night. I 
was in a cloth tent." 

She put the book down after reading less than a chapter. "I just couldn't 
stand it. Who cared when you were young about economy?" 

From the Fenton, Sherwood moved to Cornell University where she got 
another ineffectual degree, in wildlife management. Next, she was back in 
Connecticut, running the museum at People's State Forest in Barkhamsted. There, 
she was threatened by the hurricane of ' 38 and also by three rowdy young men from 
a nearby Civilian Conservation Corps camp. The hurricane she rode out in a 
ranger's cabin. The men she chased off by throwing rocks. She says they fled 
saying, "Cheese it. The woman's crazy." 

Mostly she felt safe living alone in the woods, protected by the same male 
code of conduct that barred her from getting a true forestry job. "It' s six of one, half 
a dozen of the other," she says of what used to be called chauvinism. 

Late in World War II, because so many men were in the service, she did 
get a forestry job, temporarily, in Wisconsin. But when the war ended, she had to 
relinquish it. The state transferred her to a job as adviser to women volunteers who 
did tree-planting. She couldn't stand it. 

"At one of the first meetings," Sherwood recalls, "they asked, 'What do 
you do about protecting your hands?' I said, T don't know, ladies. My hands are 
functional. They aren't ornaments.' The whole bunch of them looked at me like 
they were mad at me." 

By then, Sherwood had rejected most roles allocated to women. She'd 
sworn off office work because, she says, "you 're expected to put all your pay on your 
back, and if you don't you're fired." 

Marriage likewise was out. She'd tried it, briefly, during the war. 

"It never amounted to anything," she says of her one married week with 
a miltary meteorologist. He left her with only his name and months later was 
reported missing in action. "It was one of those things where you feel sorry for 
somebody who's going to go off and get killed. That part of my life I just put behind 

Had she reunited with her husband, she guesses they would have divorced. 

70 Concord Saunterer 

"Most of my life I couldn't stand the thought of cooking for a man or doing his 
laundry," she says. "I was always so wrapped up in the woods; to me that's all that 
ever counted." 

From Wisconsin, Sherwood returned to Connecticut, this time to Falls 
Village, where she and a friend bought ten forested acres for $ 1 ,000 and started a 
wildflower nursery. To help pay the cost of a cabin they had constructed from white 
pine harvested from their own land, Sherwood resorted — as she would often — to 
working as a waitress and a chamber maid. She had met the friend and learned the 
art of cultivating wildflowers several years earlier at the nursery in Putney, 
Vermont, started by George Aiken (who later served both as Vermont governor and 
U.S. Senator). 

Sherwood says her own nursery grew into a modest success, and a trap. 
"There was too much housekeeping and too much bookkeeping," she says. She left 
the business for more graduate study. 

By 1957, she had landed in Florida, doing plant research part time at the 
university in Gainesville. By then, too, she was 50 years old and had spent two 
decades in a futile search for meaningful conservation work. It was at that point she 
re-encountered Thoreau. 

This time the writings of the man she had dismissed as a "sissy" swept her 
away. "I was in a tizzy reading Walden," she says. 

She read deeper, passing from Walden to the many volumes of Thoreau 's 
more concentrated nature journals. She had heard that of all Thoreau 's memorable 
sentences, one referred to as the "Tree Fall" sentence was considered the most 
perfect in the English language. 

One night, reading in the trailer where she lived, she stumbled on it in The 
Maine Woods, responding to its beauty before recognizing it as the sentence for 
which she had been searching. 

"It just hit me right over the head," Sherwood remembers. "I just sat right 
up in bed. I was astounded." 

In fact, according to Harding, theThoreau biographer, the "Tree Fall" 
sentence is well known, but its extra lush prose is not regarded especially highly. It 
appears in a chapter in which Thoreau follows an Indian guide, Joe Aitteon: 

"Once, when Joe had called again, and we were listening for moose, we 
heard, come faintly echoing, or creeping from far, through the moss-clad aisles, a 
dull, dry, rushing sound, with a solid core to it, yet as if half- smothered under the 
grasp of the luxuriant and fungus-like forest, like the shutting of a door in some 
distant entry of the damp and shaggy wilderness." The passage concludes: "If we 
had not been there no mortal had heard it. When we asked Joe in a whisper what 
it was, he answered — 'Tree fall.'" 

For Sherwood, who says she sometimes wishes she could go back to the 
"interface" to see the land as it was just as Europeans arrived here, the sentence and 
her immersion in Thoreau were an epiphany. 

Joel Lang 77 

"I was feeling guilty that I ought to be doing more for conservation. I just 
put the two together," she says. "I decided to dedicate the rest of my life to doing 
something for Henry Thoreau and then for Walden." 

To carry out her vow, Sherwood did what Walter Brain would do; she 
moved directly to Concord to be as close to Walden as possible. 

When she arrived in 1958, she supported herself with an assortment of 
part-time jobs. But her real occupation was Thoreau. For a year she had a private 
grant to do nothing but study Thoreau. She lived cheap, in a converted chicken 
breeder coop. She painted it Wedgewood blue and called it her Concord studio. She 
joined the Thoreau Society and was appalled that it met only once a year in a church 
basement. She decided Concord needed a permanent Thoreau center and in 1960 
began a single-minded and single-handed campaign to establish one. The Thoreau 
Lyceum opened in 1967. 

Sherwood is vague about the reasons she was fired a year later as its 
curator. She implies there was jealousy over who should be the proper guardian of 
Thoreau 's memory. Also, she claims she was more ambitious than others for the 
Lyceum. She dreamed it would grow into a study center, along the lines that the 
Walden Woods Project now envisions for its mansion. 

But Sherwood's personality probably also was a factor. Local Thoreauvians 
tended to be well-to-do, cultured, and decorous people; not renegade female 
foresters. As an example of the clash, Schofield mentioned that Sherwood once 
brought a homemade sandwich to a fancy catered lunch. 

Whatever the cause, Sherwood's retreat from Concord was only tempo- 
rary and could not separate her from Thoreau. She moved to Maine near Old Town, 
Thoreau 's jumping off point for several excursions into the Maine wilderness. 
There she founded another Thoreau organization, started a journal that was later 
adopted by a university, and also started another wildflower nursery. She says her 
activities became so well known that local newspaper columnists dubbed her 
Wildflower Mary. 

In fact, she was a sort of Johnny Appleseed, planting seeds in behalf of 

Advancing age and the chance to work at Walden brought her back south 
in 1979, when she talked the state into letting her restore the three-acre pond slope. 
She planned the job and, though assisted by volunteers, did much of the labor 
herself. It was as close as she had ever come to the kind of conservation work she 
always sought. Seeing more to be done to protect Walden, she founded Walden 
Forever Wild in 1 980. In doing so, Sherwood was, in effect, joining the weaker side 
in a tug of war over Walden that dated from at least Thoreau 's time. 

Emerson bought the land where Thoreau 's cabin stood to shield it from 
woodcutters, and Thoreau built his cabin to escape, selectively, the growing press 
of people and their machines. To get to Walden he often walked along the newly 
laid tracks of the Fitchburg Railroad. The railroad in turn built an "excursion park" 

72 Concord Saunterer 

whose attractions included bathhouses, boats, dance halls, and, later, a baseball 
diamond and cinder track. 

The invasion of raucous masses from Boston suburbs is apparently what 
led Emerson's family and others to give the pond to the Commonwealth. Among 
activities prohibited by the deed were "games, athletic contests, racing, baseball, 
football, motion pictures, dancing, camping, hunting, trapping, shooting, making 
fires in the open. ..." 

The county commissioners in charge of the pond seemed to favor the 
invaders, however. In 1952 a local newspaper feature boasted that as many as 
35,000 people a day were enjoying the pond and its bathing pavilion and diving pier. 
In 1957, about the time Sherwood was rediscovering Thoreau in Florida, the state 
legislature approved a bill authorizing more improvements at Walden. One of the 
benefitting interest groups was the American Red Cross, which wanted better 
facilities for the swimming classes it gave each summer. 

More than a hundred large trees were cut down, apart of the pond slope was 
gouged away, and the freed sand was used to widen the long, narrow main beach 
from 10 feet to 50. But before concrete ramps for fishermen's boats and a 100-foot- 
long cinder block bathhouse could be built, local members of the Thoreau Society 
filed a suit that halted the construction. 

At that time, the cause attracted celebrities of the ilk of historian Samuel 
Eliot Morison, the architect Walter Gropius, and novelist John P. Marquand. 
Eventually the suit, which became known as the Nickols case after the architect who 
was the lead plaintiff, was decided by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in 
what seemed to be the Thoreauvians' favor. 

Its decision in 1960 emphasized the phrase in the original deed that 
entrusted the state with preserving "the Walden of Emerson and Thoreau, its shores 
and nearby woodlands." 

It noted that their Walden was a "forest lake" that until 1922 had remained 
"as closely in its natural state as a great pond less than 20 miles from the State House 
[in Boston] could well remain at the beginning of the automobile age." It also agreed 
with an auditor who found that because of Thoreau and Emerson, "Walden Pond is 
an American literary shrine." 

The court found that public officials did, in fact, violate the terms of the 
deed by failing to minimize the effects of whatever public use, like swimming, the 
deed allowed. The court even ordered that attempts should be made to repair some 
of the damage. The needed "replanting, landscaping, and erosion prevention," 
however, it left to "official discretion" to undertake "within the limits of appropria- 
tions available from time to time." 

Like other seemingly firm court decisions, this one was soft on enforce- 
ment. The county's continued neglect of the pond prompted further protest. A 
critical report in 1 974 concluded that "The Walden of Emerson and Thoreau is being 
destroyed by the very public for whose enjoyment the land was originally entrusted 

Joel Lang 73 

to the Commonwealth." 

The following year, control of the pond was switched to the Department 
of Environmental Management (DEM). Yet not until a roadside parking ban was 
imposed in the mid- 1 980s did attendance begin to fall significantly. Until recently, 
the only serious restoration was Mary Sherwood's. 

Now, the state believes it is doing a reasonable job of balancing preserva- 
tion and use at Walden. 

According to Karst Hoogeboom, a DEM landscape architect who is 
project manager for the Walden reservation, the state has undone some of the county 
damage by removing a concrete pier and giving the bathhouse a more rustic facade. 
It also has pressured the town to close a landfill across Route 126 from Walden and 
has proposed rerouting the two-lane highway. (The state also contributed $ 1 million 
toward buying a portion of Walden Woods.) 

"We are taking steps to make sure human impact [at the pond] is reduced 
as much as possible," Hoogeboom promises. 

"If we were the Audubon Society would we manage things differently? 
Sure. But we have this conflict with the deed," Hoogeboom says. 

"We don't have the luxury of seeing stamped on someone's forehead what 
they're planning to do," he says in answer to strict preservationists such as 
Sherwood [who] may want swimming restricted (and who also argue that modern 
swimmers are more boisterous than Thoreau's "bathers"). 

In court papers, attorneys for the state have denied all major contentions 
of the Walden Forever Wild suit. The deed provision they prefer to cite is the one 
about the "public who wish to enjoy the pond . . . bathing, boating, fishing, and 
picnicking." They also reject assertions that Walden' s ecology is being degraded. 

Furthermore, the state argues the suit's citizen plaintiffs lack standing 
either to challenge DEM's decisions in an area where it clearly has expertise or to 
dictate enforcement of a public trust. 

Cindy Hill, the attorney for Walden Forever Wild, claims that certain state 
activities, such as trucking in new sand each year, spraying with insecticides, and 
stocking the pond with predatory game fish, not only alter Walden' s natural state, 
but encourage the overuse that is the main threat to the pond. 

Hill even disputes the DEM's claim to expertise. She writes that its staff 
includes no scholar or cultural historian who can claim to understand the importance 
of Emerson and Thoreau or "the state of natural beauty" that the Supreme Court in 
the original Nickols ruling said was of paramount importance. 

In an interview, Hill said that she worries that the case will be heard by a 
judge "from the suburbs or Boston" who is going to look at Walden "and see water 
and trees and not condos and say, 'Hey, it looks like natural aspect to me.'" 

In other words, Hill is worried about a judge like most of us, one who may 

74 Concord Saunterer 

appreciate nature, but is oblivious to its intricacies and Walden's cultural signifi- 

To guard against such a misunderstanding, Hill has filed affidavits of 
various experts, Sherwood among them, on such matters as erosion, fish stocking, 
and vegetation. The most unusual affidavit is one by Tom Blanding, a scholar and 
former Thoreau Society president, explaining the importance of Walden to Tran- 
scendental philosophy. 

Practitioners like Emerson and Thoreau searched for spiritual meaning in 
the natural world. For them, something as humble as a pitch pine or a pickerel could 
be a symbol of a higher truth. The Transcendentalists, however, believed the 
abstract meaning and the physical being were equally real, and could not be 

"The object is both object and symbol," is how Hill explains it. And so she 
argues in her suit that Thoreau' s primary referent, Walden, must be preserved both 
as a pond and as a symbol. 

Summing up the case in a more down-to-earth analogy, Hill asks, "What 
if they converted St. Patrick's Cathedral to a shopping mall? The building would 
still be there, but it's not the same thing anymore." 

Mary Sherwood herself is not inclined to philosophy. Asked about the 
spotted owl controversy, she simply says the timber companies sowed the seeds of 
their own destruction with decades of mismanagement. Saving the rain forest, she 
concedes grudgingly, is probably more urgent than saving Walden. The basic 
problem, she says, is greed and human population control. "I've decided it [the 
global issue] is beyond me," she says. 

About Walden she has no doubts. One of the trickier aspects to the debate 
over the pond's use is that Thoreau himself loved to swim there, and was generally 
opposed to government infringement on people's activities. That is a reason the 
Thoreau Society hesitates to join the call for a sanctuary. 

Sherwood poses the conundrum to herself. "They say Henry Thoreau 
lived and swam at Walden; why can't we? Well, one man isn't a thousand," she 

For Sherwood, the object that is Walden Pond merged many years ago with 
Henry Thoreau the man. She admits she might be described as Thoreau 's spiritual 
sister, minus any religious connotation. 

"First, first, first, it is in honor of Thoreau," she says of her wish to make 
Walden into a sanctuary, jabbing a finger for emphasis and her face flushed with 

"Then it is for what he represents. It's for ecology, for understanding the 
whole of nature as a system. That's the major thing." 

Seeing the earth as a single ecosystem is, of course, at the core of the 

Joel Lang 75 

environmental movement. Sherwood probably would agree with Don Henley, who 
has said the movement needs a spiritual center and that Walden is it. 

After her birthday in May, Sherwood began to speak with friends of 
retiring as chairperson of Walden Forever Wild. She knows her energy is waning. 
But in early June, she felt herself being swept up in another Thoreauvian political 
crisis. There was talk of restructuring Walden Forever Wild. She was worried that 
the group, without her, might choose less controversial and expensive ways to serve 
Walden. In particular, she worried it might abandon the lawsuit. 

Cindy Hill said she felt the group's support for the lawsuit was still solid, 
but that she understands Sherwood's perhaps exaggerated fears. 

"Mary is definitely obsessed and I don't mean that in any bad sense," Hill 
says. "As she sees people drift in and drift out [of the fight for Walden] , she becomes 
very adamant and very concerned that the fight continue. The truth of the matter is 
that no one else out there is as single-minded and as pure of heart about the issue. 
It takes a lot to hold onto something like that for a long time." 

Hill observed that everyone in the environmental movement is pressured 
to compromise and that there is a saying in the movement that in every compromise 
nature loses. 

"It's like you cut off a hand one digit at a time," Hill says. "So for some 
people like Mary, there are moral and ethical lines beyond which we must not go 
and anything less is not acceptable." 

You have to go back a long way to find a better and more beleaguered 
friend to Walden Pond than Mary Sherwood. "Mary has drawn the line here," Hill 
says — at Walden. 

Sarah Alden Ripley 
Courtesy of the Concord Free Public Library 


Sarafi fAlden ^ipCeyj 
Another Concord botanist 

Joan Goodwin 

Not long before Henry Thoreau died in 1 862, Sarah Alden Ripley walked 
over from the Old Manse to pay a call. She found him so wasted and feeble, seated 
in the parlor in a handsome black suit, that she would not have recognized him if she 
"had fallen on him unawares." However, "he talked cheerfully about what the 
earliest Phylosophers had said about health, and natural remedies," and she was 
struck by "how much he has trusted to his life according to the natural laws." 1 

Upon hearing of Thoreau' s death, Sarah wrote to her daughter, Sophy: 

This fine morning is sad for those of us who sympathise with the friends of 
Henry Thoreau the phylosopher and the woodman. He had his reason to the 
last and talked with his friends pleasantly and arranged his affairs; and at last 
passed in quiet sleep from this state of duty and responsibility to that which 
is behind the veil. His funeral service is to be at the church, and Mr. Emerson 
is to make an address. I hope Uncle George will get home in season to be there, 
he will regret it so much if he does not. 2 

Sarah Ripley and Henry Thoreau had known each other for a number of 
years, probably having first met at the Emersons' house, where both were consid- 
ered members of the family. Their relationship seems to have been more casual than 
close. It was Mrs. Ripley's younger brother, George Bradford, who became 
Thoreau 's good friend, accompanying him on walking trips and comparing notes 
on botany. Bradford, however, owed his botanical knowledge to his older sister, 
Sarah, and after the Ripley s moved to the Old Manse in 1846, she and Thoreau 
shared discoveries about the natural world. They both enjoyed visits from John 
Russell, an interesting minister-naturalist. 

THE CONCORD SAUNTERER, N.S. Volume 1, Number 1, Fall 1993 

78 Concord Saunterer 

On a snowy day, January 15, 1853, Thoreau wrote in his journal: 

Mrs. Ripley told me this afternoon that Russell had decided that that green 
(and sometimes yellow) dust on the under side of stones in walls was a 
decaying state of Lepraria chlorina. a lichen, — the yellow another species of 
Lepraria. Science suggests the value of mutual intelligence. I have long 
known this dust, but as I did not know the name of it, i.e. what others called 
[it], and therefore could not conveniently speak of it, it has suggested less to 
me and I have made less use of it. I now first feel as if 1 had got hold of it. 3 

Sarah had been studying the lichens on stone walls for many years, and Thoreau had 
heard that she had "spent one whole season studying the lichens on a stick of wood 
they were about to put on the fire." 4 

In an entry on May 17, 1856, Thoreau described a plant Mrs. Ripley had 
shown him, from her son in Minnesota,"the first spring flower of the prairie there, 
a hairy-stemmed, slender-divisioned, and hairy involucred, six-petalledblue flower, 
probably a species of hepatica. No leaves with it. Not described in Gray." He added 
in a note, "Yes. They say it is Pulsatilla patens." 5 

On another occasion, Thoreau received a note from Sarah and a copy of 
Blackwood's Magazine with an article on seaside studies that she thought he would 
like to see. The article had brought to mind a story he once told her about the 
spontaneous generation of a butterfly. 6 

These few glimpses of interaction between the two leave the impression 
that, for Thoreau, Sarah Ripley may have been an exception to his general feeling 
of inhibition in talking with women. F. B. Sanborn quotes his comment on Mrs. 
Elizabeth Oakes Smith after her lecture on Womanhood at the Concord Lyceum in 
1851. Apparently dissasppointed, he wrote, "She was a woman in the too common 
sense after all. You had to substitute courtesy for sense and argument. It requires 
nothing less than a chivalric feeling to sustain a conversation with a lady." 7 

He had quite a different reaction to a close friend of Sarah Ripley's, Mary 
Moody Emerson, with whom he spent two hours in November 1 85 1 : 

The wittiest and most vivacious woman that I know whom it is most profitable 
to meet, the least frivolous, who will the most surely provoke good conver- 
sation and expression of what is in you. She is singular in being really and 
perseveringly interested to know what thinkers think. In spite of her own 
biases, she can entertain a large thought with hospitality. . . . Reading from 
my manuscripts to her, and using the word "god" in perchance a mere 
heathenish sense, she inquired hastily in a tone of dignified anxiety, "Is that 
god spelt with a little g?" Fortunately it was (I had brought in the word "god" 
without any solemnity of voice or connection.) So I went on as if nothing had 
happened. 8 

Joan Goodwin 79 

For a time, Thoreau enjoyed Mary Moody Emerson's notoriously intense 
interest, intellectually and spiritually, in his work and in himself. Four decades 
earlier, she had seized upon young Sarah Alden Bradford as a protege, and their 
correspondence contains some of Sarah ' s earliest comments on what she then called 
her "botanic mania." 

Born in 1793, Sarah was fortunate in having parents who encouraged her 
to study. Her father was Captain Gamaliel Bradford, who spent his adolescence 
fighting the American Revolution instead of attending Harvard College, but who 
had excellent early schooling with the Honorable George Partridge of Duxbury. As 
a shipmaster in the Mediterranean trade, Captain Bradford continued his own 
education and brought home books in many languages for his young family. 

Sarah, the eldest of seven surviving Bradford children, attended Jacob 
Cummings's school in Boston, where she learned Latin along with the boys. She 
also spent at least one quarter in the Medford academy of Dr. Luther Stearns, who 
had been a Latin tutor in Cambridge. Close friends of the Bradford family were the 
family of Dr. John Allyn, minister of the First Parish in Duxbury, and schoolmaster 
as well. Dr. Allyn was an early mentor of Sarah, and with his encouragement, she 
moved from Virgil to Homer with a Latin glossary. His daughter Abigail, a few 
years younger than Sarah, became her lifelong friend. The two shared their readings 
in classical and modern literature and began to botanize together as early as 1810, 
when the Bradfords lived in Duxbury for a year. 

Captain Bradford wrote to his son at Harvard, 

Sarah and Abba are studying Botany, and one would think they hold converse 
only with the flowers for they in a manner seclude themselves from human 
observation & from communication with animal nature. I dont know what 
flower they affect to emulate but I dare say they are known to each other under 
some order or class of the Linean system — if you or John [Abba's brother] 
should write to them I would advise you to take all your ideas from the groves 
& fields — talk about calyx, corolla, & petals & I will engage you will be read. 9 

Despite his jesting attitude at that time, her father encouraged Sarah's 
interest in botany, and during the summer of 1 8 1 3, the two of them attended a series 
of lectures presented by William Dandridge Peck, a Harvard professor and director 
of the botanical garden. At the same time, Dr. Jacob Bigelow undertook an 
American edition of James Edward Smith's Introduction to Physiological and 
Systematical Botany, published in 1807 in London. Bigelow added notes on 
American species, an expanded index, and a preface in which he stated that the work 
was undertaken primarily for the benefit of the public attending the Peck lectures. 

Sarah commented to Mary Moody Emerson that the lectures were "numer- 
ously frequented by the beau-monde; we are pleased to see so rational an amusement 
in fashion; by exciting a taste for nature it may perhaps render the country 
supportable to some of our fine ladies." 10 

80 Concord Saunterer 

Botany was thought to be a particularly acceptable subject for young ladies 
to study, possibly because, as Bigelow wrote in his preface to Smith, "The natural 
history of animals, in many respects even more interesting to man as an animated 
being, and more striking in some of the phenomena which it displays, is in other 
points less pleasing to a tender and delicate mind. In botany all is elegance and 
delight." 11 Botany was also evidence of the Divine Wisdom and a source of 
"elevated feelings." It was "a privilege to walk with God in the garden of creation, 
and hold converse with his providence," Bigelow wrote. "The more we study the 
works of the Creator, the more wisdom, beauty and harmony become manifest, even 
to our limited apprehensions; and while we admire, it is impossible not to adore." 12 

Thus, both spirit and intellect were improved in the study of botany, and 
physical health was enhanced as well, by walking outdoors on collecting expedi- 
tions. "There prevaileth hereabouts a kind of Botanic mania," Sarah wrote to Abba 
that summer of 1813. 

If you are disposed to complain Martha [Sarah's younger sister] will sincerely 
sympathise with you, for if she, poor girl! ventures to put a question about 
indifferent matters, she is sure to be repulsed with "Hold your tongue, I don't 
know anything about it, there you have blown away my little nectarium with 
your plaguey breath" and Daniel [her younger brother] on a lecture day is 
quite in despair. But seriously I am if possible more than ever interested in our 
favorite study. 13 

Letters to both Abba Allyn and Mary Moody Emerson during this period 
were full of Sarah's delight in her new discoveries, described in vivid detail, with 
the customary theological references: 

In our last evening's excursion, we discovered the Henbane. Its lurid and 
disagreeable aspect and foetid smell would repel all but the botanist. The 
whole plant is covered with a fine kind of glutinous hair. The colour of its 
blossoms is a dirty yellow striped with dark purple. It is a most deadly poison, 
but as is generally the case with plants of its affinity has been discovered to 
possess great medicinal virtue. Instances like these daily multiplied are 
unspeakably delightful. They vindicate the ways of God to man. 14 

And again, about a dandelion: 

The perfect uniformity of the little flowers, each with its pistil and five 
stamens united by the anthers, the filaments separate, almost too small to be 
distinguished with the naked eye. The same order, regularity and beauty are 
as visible in the least as in the greatest of the worlds of creation. Do you think 
a dandelion could have been the work of chance? Surely that study cannot be 
entirely useless which can make even this most despised of flowers a source 
of admiration and entertainment, a demonstration of the hand of a Creator. 15 

Joan Goodwin &1 

Sarah speculated about the function of pollen, or the "dust of the anthers," 
as she termed it, and about how to account for the ascent of liquid from the roots to 
the branches of trees — both topics of controversy among botanists of the time. 
Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of Charles, had written a narrative poem, "The 
Botanic Garden," agreeing with Linnaeus that pollen was necessary to the produc- 
tion of seeds. Sarah, however, understood that conclusive arguments had proven 
Linnaeus incorrect, until she read Smith's Botany, which supported Linnaeus. She 
was intrigued with analogies between the animal and vegetable kingdoms, such as 
sexual reproduction and circulation of fluids. When Charles Darwin was still a child 
of four or five, the groundwork was already being laid for his theory of evolution. 
To her friend Abba, Sarah wrote: 

How regular the gradation too from species to species in the long series of 
organized existence ! I suppose your ladyship would not feel her dignity much 
impaired by kindred with the majestic elm or delicate sensitive plant, but how 
would you receive the hand of fraternity extended by a potato or toadstool? 
Distinctions which appear so striking and marked when extremes are com- 
pared blend insensibly into each other as we descend, and genus is linked with 
genus in a chain which the delighted philosopher cannot nor does not wish to 
dissolve. 16 

As she became more assured, both of her botanical knowledge and of her 
friendship with Mary Moody Emerson, Sarah risked a playful passage in a letter to 
her older friend, who was then in Maine: 

Why can't you be disinterested enough, after you have exhaled the fragrance 
of autumnal wild flowers to press some of them for me. Tucker's holy dying 
will be just the book to entomb withering beauty. All modes too of decease 
in the vegetable world are not destitute of variety, the green briar which taints 
the gale while it lives and loses when dry its offensive odour may comment 
on "the wicked cease from troubling," the fragrance of the faded rose, is a 
good name left behind, and the pappous tribe go off on gossamer wings of 
immortality. 17 

Botanic mania was apparently infectious; at least, it was communicated 
from Sarah to her brothers, Daniel and George. When Daniel was a Harvard student, 
he and Sarah shared their worlds of learning, he classifying her weed collections 
while she skimmed the books he brought home from the college library. She took 
full responsibility for the schooling of the three youngest Bradfords, Margaret, 
George, and Hannah, who would hurry through their lessons in the kitchen chamber 
in Charlestown in order to go plant collecting in the neighboring Craigie's swamp. 
For George as for Sarah, botany became a lifelong interest. 

82 Concord Saunterer 

In 18 18, when Sarah married the Rev. Samuel Ripley and moved into his 
new house in Waltham, the younger Bradfords went along. Three sisters and brother 
George joined the household, and Daniel soon started a law practice in the town. 
Their mother had died the year before, after a long struggle with "lung fever." 
George was soon in Harvard himself, and the girls, until they also married, were 
welcome helpers in the busy Ripley household and school. 

In order to supplement the meager salary of parish minister, Samuel 
Ripley, half-brother of Mary Moody Emerson, had undertaken the preparation of 
boys for Harvard, and several of them boarded in his house. Nephews William and 
Ralph Waldo Emerson took turns as teaching assistants, and Sarah heard recitations 
in Latin and Greek in addition to her chores as parish minister's wife and household 
manager. Soon she had children of her own. Nine babies were born to the Ripleys 
between 1819 and 1833, and seven survived. As they grew up, they, too, attended 
the Ripley school, which earned an excellent reputation over the years, largely 
owing to Sarah's unusual intellectual attainments and teaching skills. Rusticated 
Harvard students claimed to have learned more from her than they would have in 
their college classrooms. 

At odd hours, she managed to continue her own reading and study, 
including her botany. Lichens became her special interest. Early morning walks in 
the Waltham area, especially to Prospect Hill, gave her some relief from the hectic 
household and the labor of dragging youths through Cicero and Caesar into college, 
as she put it. She was always alert to especially beautiful plant specimens and often 
made new discoveries. Classification of species was an exciting frontier of the 

In the fall of 1843, she began a correspondence with George F. Simmons, 
who had been associate minister in Waltham until his departure for two years of 
study in Germany. Sarah wrote to him, 

Mr. Russell came the very day you left Boston for New York, and the next 
morning we set out for Prospect, on which we spent most of the day, searching 
every shady nook for mosses, on a catalogue of which I believe he proposes 
to found his hope of future fame. The Lichens he does not so much regard at 
present, nevertheless many were his revelations concerning the lower world 

of vegetation The Lichen which you told me the farmers' wives used for 

dyeing he calls Parmelia saxatilis. It is in colour between lead and ashes and 
grows every where on the walls mingling with the light green P. caperata. . 
. . he showed me in his microscope the circulation of the sap in the cells of 
a small transparent plant. You could see the current of little globules passing 
up one side and down the other of the magnified cell. This is the Eureka of 
modern botany, nothing was detected before so like the circulation of blood 
in the animal economy. 18 

This Rev. John Lewis Russell was remarkable in several ways. Given to 
sudden swings of mood, and reputed to be by turns extremely conservative and 

Joan Goodwin o3 

extremely radical in his views on almost any subject, he never stayed long in any 
one parish. A visitor to his study in one of the parsonages Russell briefly occupied 
found all the available surfaces covered with plants, a fishing rod in one corner, and 
boxes, baskets, and cases for collecting piled in odd nooks. Botany was his true love, 
and he became such an expert in the field that he was appointed Professor of Botany 
and Horticultural Physiology at the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. He was 
particularly well respected for "an extensive and accurate knowledge of the 
Cryptogamia in particular, and of lichens more especially, in which department he 
ranked as an original worker and of the first class of amateur students." 19 Apparently 
he took great pleasure in traveling about the countryside to visit people like Sarah 
Ripley and Henry Thoreau, who could share his enthusiasm. 

One evening in the spring of 1 844, Sarah met a Waltham neighbor who told 
her that a large man with a carpet bag had just asked him the way to the Ripley house. 
Hurrying home, she found Russell in the parlor, and soon the two of them had 
opened the boxes of mosses and lichens and set up the microscope. Sarah had found 
in Duxbury a lichen in network form and had been unable to find a description of 
it. Russell, who had also found a specimen in Duxbury, said it had not yet been 
described in print, but that it was to be called Cladonia Russellii. He also looked at 
a beautiful scarlet-cup she had picked up on Prospect Hill in doubt as to v/hether it 
was fungus or lichen, and decided it was fungus. At five o'clock the next morning, 
they were out hunting for more specimens. 

George Simmons in Europe was urged to send any lichens he found: 
"There is no knowing what you may do for science." 20 Simmons did send lichens 
he had collected, and Sarah wrote to acknowledge and identify them: 

The yellow foliaceous one is the Parmelia Parietina. I have seen specimens 
of it hereabouts, but always on stones, never on bark or wood. . . . The 
powdery looking fellow I view with great delight because I saw he was a new 
acquaintance and I thought at first one of a new family, but I believe it must 
be a Parmelia after all. Parmelia flava, a variety of Parmelia citrina. 21 

In another letter to George Simmons, Sarah mentioned the incident of the lichen on 
the piece of firewood which later caught Henry Thoreau 's attention: "You recollect 
that stick with the Graphia Hebraica so beautifully sketched upon it, that I laboured 
with my hand and you with your penknife to procure, alas, some vandal has given 
it to the flames. I have not met with another specimen before or since." 22 Returning 
from a walk in March 1844, Sarah wrote to him, "The moss, awake when the rest 
of vegetation sleeps, erecting its little standard in token that life still triumphs over 
death, through the melting snow in the crevice of the rock, teaches us what the old 
Persian meant when he told his royal master, that high things provoke the God and 
draw down his bolt." 23 

Several times in 1844, Sarah mentioned Dr. Asa Gray, the noted botanist 
who had been appointed Professor at Harvard two years earlier. When she visited 

84 Concord Saunterer 

him, he showed her "a splendid microscope mounted like a telescope, and some very 
pretty phenomena of crystals seen by polarized light." The Cambridge Library had 
just received a work on European mosses, and Dr. Gray promised that she should 
have it as soon as he had read it. 24 He also sent her "a beautiful edition of a French 
work on botany according to the present mode of analysis," she wrote. 

As far as I have read, the author has introduced me to nothing new, but yet 
there is great pleasure in getting at the mind of a man of genius through his 
scientific method. The way in which he holds up his subject and unfolds its 
wonders to your view is always his own. The French are remarkable in this 
line. Their mathematics and chemistry and botany are well worth reading as 
specimens of genius. 25 

She had more to say about the book: 

The analysis is thorough. It is much more satisfactory to begin from the root 
and study upwards than to pick over a flower count the stamens refer it to a 
class and give it a name. Many difficulties are resolved and I see many things 
which I had not observed before. I hope like the bee to cull from flower to 
flower a treasure sweet and curious. 26 

It was Asa Gray who upheld Darwin's theory of the origin of species in 
opposition to Louis Agassiz, stating that he saw nothing in the hypothesis which 
conflicted with the tenets of orthodox theology as he understood it. Sarah also 
welcomed the writings of Darwin and his supporters, according to her son-in-law, 
James Bradley Thayer. In this, she and Henry Thoreau would have agreed. 

To the end of her days, Sarah was a teacher who delighted in sharing her 
love of nature. In the winter of 1 867, the last year of her life, she wrote to her three- 
year-old grandson, Willy Thayer: 

I am sitting at Aunt Mary's window, and do not see anything pretty, it looks 

as if it would snow before long but it will be better when the pretty flowers 

blossom out and you can gather them whenever you want to get them, and then 

you can ask Grandma, and she will tell you their names Oh how we will 

run after the butterflies but we will not hurt them, dear little creatures, but we 
will put them under a tumbler, that we may look at them as long as we want 
. . . and then we will let them fly away. 27 

After Sarah's death, Willy's father, James Thayer, wrote: 

. . . surely she had a very keen and special delight in nature. ... it was more 
like that of a healthy child, who is not so much a spectator of nature as a sharer 
with it in a common impulse and a common delight. She seemed ... to belong 
to the landscape, and to be the companion and friend of the natural objects 

Joan Goodwin 95 

among which she walked; so that when, during the night after she was brought 
home to the"01d Manse" dead, one of the tall ash-trees in the front avenue fell 
and in the morning lay prostrate on the ground, — it was like a hint of 
sympathy in nature: easy was it then, and to the imagination neither trivial nor 
untrue, to think that this old neighbor had felt the shock of grief. 28 


1 Sarah Alden Ripley to Sophia Bradford Thayer, n.d. [Winter 1862?], 
Sarah Alden Bradford Ripley Papers (SABR), F. 10, Schlesinger Library, 
Radcliffe College. 

2 Sarah Alden Ripley to Sophia Bradford Thayer, n.d. [May 1 862], SABR, 

3 Henry D. Thoreau, The Journal of Henry D. Thoreau, ed. Bradford Torrey 
and Francis H. Allen, 14 vols. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1906), 4:467. 

4 Thoreau, Journal, 5:48. 

5 Thoreau , Journal, 8:341. 

6 Thoreau, The Correspondence of Henry David Thoreau, ed. Walter 
Harding and Carl Bode (New York: New York Univ. Press, 1958), 434. 

7 Franklin B. Sanborn, The Life of Henry DavidThoreau (Boston: Houghton 
Mifflin, 1917), 361. 

8 Sanborn, Life, 361-62. 

9 Captain Gamaliel Bradford to Gamaliel Bradford, Thursday [1810?], 
Bradford Papers, bMs Am 1 183.32, Houghton Library, Harvard Univer- 

10 Sarah Alden Bradford to Mary Moody Emerson, n.d. [May 1813?], 
SABR, F.30. 

1 1 James Edward Smith, An Introduction to Physiological and Systematical 
Botany, First American, from the Second English Edition, with notes by 
Jacob Bigelow (Boston: Bradford and Read, 1814), 2. 

12 Smith, Introduction, 2. 

86 Concord Saunterer 

13 Sarah Alden Bradford to Abigail Bradford Allyn, n.d. [Spring 1813?], 
SABR, F.27. 

14 Sarah Alden Bradford to Mary Moody Emerson, n.d. [May 18 13?], SABR, 

15 Sarah Alden Bradford to Abigail Bradford Allyn, n.d. [Spring 1812?], 
SABR, F.27. 

16 Sarah Alden Bradford to Abigail Bradford Allyn, 30 September [1815?], 
SABR, F.27. 

17 Sarah Alden Bradford to Mary Moody Emerson, 5 September [1817?], 
SABR, F.30. 

18 Sarah Alden Ripley to George F. Simmons, 23 October 1843, SABR, F.5. 

19 Edmund B. Wilson, "Memoir of John Lewis Russell," Historical Collec- 
tions of the Essex Institute (Salem, 1874), 12.3:163-78. 

20 Sarah Alden Ripley to George F. Simmons, 20 June 1844, SABR, F.5. 

21 Sarah Alden Ripley to George F. Simmons, 20 June 1844, SABR, F.5. 

22 Sarah Alden Ripley to George F. Simmons, 5 November 1 843, SABR, F.5. 

23 Sarah Alden Ripley to George F. Simmons, 7 March 1844, SABR, F.5. 

24 Sarah Alden Ripley to George F. Simmons, 12 December 1844, SABR, 

25 Sarah Alden Ripley to George F. Simmons, 26 June 1844, SABR, F.5. 

26 Sarah Alden Ripley to George F. Simmons, 19 July 1844, SABR, F.5. 

27 Sarah Alden Ripley to William Thayer, n.d. [1867?], SABR, F.19. 

28 James B. Thayer, "Sketch of Mrs. Ripley," Ripley family papers, present 
location unknown. 

William Ellery Charming the Younger 


'Ettery Cfianning: 
The Turning Qoint 

Harmon Smith 

At midnight on Monday, September 22, 1 856, Barbara Channing sat down 
to write an anguished note to her sister Mary Channing Higginson in Worcester. 
Ellen Fuller Channing, the wife of their brother Ellery, had died a short time earlier 
in the Channing family home in Boston as Barbara and her father, Dr. Walter 
Channing, hovered beside her bed. Seriously ill since the premature birth of her fifth 
child on July 15, Ellen Channing had arrived at her father-in-law's house the 
previous Friday. 1 Wrote Barbara Channing, 

She has seemed more feeble each day, and to-day had two faint turns wh[ich] 
alarmed me - but after tea revived and spoke quite brightly and said she 
w[ou]ld sit up till 10 - Then I helped her up to bed, and she sat down on the 
edge, and began to struggle terribly for breath - 1 call'd father and we held her 
and gave her brandy and applied hot water to her chest but soon she sunk and 
died very gently at the last. 2 

Although Ellery Channing wasn't with his wife when she died, his absence was 
not due to any lack of concern for her. Barbara Channing 's note and three 
succeeding letters from her to Mary Higginson provide new information about 
Ellery 's activities during this difficult time and in the following weeks as the 
future of his children was being decided. 3 

Only eleven months earlier Ellery Channing had been reunited with Ellen 
after a separation that had lasted for two years. A poet who had supported his family 
on an allowance provided by his father, Ellery had experienced an emotional 
breakdown in the early 1 850s which manifested itself in abusive behavior to his wife 
and children. To Ellen he had appeared to be "driven by Furies." 4 Acting at times 

THE CONCORD SAUNTERER, N.S. Volume 1, Number 1, Fall 1993 

90 Concord Saunterer 

"as a madman," he had seemed "to hate and loathe" her. 5 Appealing for help to her 
brother-in-law, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Ellen had written, "Oh Wentworth 
I am really afraid of him.''* Sympathetic to her situation, Higginson had arranged 
for the separation and had acted as Ellen's advisor immediately after she had left 
Ellery and later when she had settled with her children in Dorchester, Massachu- 

Not long after the separation, Ellery began writing letters to Ellen and was 
soon declaring his love for her and devotion to their children. "He really persuades 
himself that he has been a fond & devoted father," Ellen commented in disbelief 
after reading one of his letters. 7 Despite her initial skepticism about the sincerity of 
his professions, she gradually became convinced that the isolation of his life without 
his family had changed him. "I feel as if he were coming, thro' the season of solitude, 
to estimate the calls of humanity at their true value, that he is learning there is but 
one thing left for him in life, his family, & that in ministering to them & living with 
them which he never has done, his only hope of life." 8 Finally, she consented to be 
reunited with him, but as a precaution she insisted that he sign an agreement drawn 
up by Higginson in which Ellery assented in advance to another separation if his 
behavior lapsed and agreed to relinquish control of the children to Higginson in that 

Ellery and Ellen Channing were reunited in the autumn of 1855. The 
following spring, when it became clear that Ellen was pregnant, Ellery obtained a 
job as an assistant editor of the New Bedford Mercury and moved to a room near 
the newspaper's offices. Ellen, already in ill health, remained in Dorchester until the 
birth of their son, Edward, by which time her condition had worsened to the point 
where she was unable to maintain a home for the children. They were then sent to 
board with a family in Milton, although Marnie, who was eleven, returned shortly 
to help take care of her mother. Ellen and her daughter moved three times in the next 
several weeks, finally arriving in Boston at the Channings' on Friday, September 
19 . 9 

On Sunday, Ellery traveled from New Bedford to visit her. By this time 
he was "prepared" for Ellen's death, his sister Barbara observed, "tho' not for its 
being so soon. They all thought she might live till Jany and I hoped still more." 10 
Thus, when Ellery left Ellen that evening to return to his job in New Bedford, he did 
not suspect that he would not see her again alive. 

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the remaining Channing children and 
Ellen's family converged on Dr. Channing 's house. The Fullers made the arrange- 
ments for the funeral, which was scheduled for noon on Thursday. Ellery arrived 
early that morning." Barbara Channing wrote, 

I met him in the basement & took him into my room - with the children where 
he staid thro' it all - he was calm - 

Harmon Smith 91 

I never expected to get thro' the getting Ellery down from my room thro' the 
crowd, & yet it all happened easily. 

There were a great many here- & beautiful services fr. J[ames] F[reeman] 
C[larke] & Mr Bulfinch - Father, E[llery], the children, & I rode out in the first 
carriage - The day glorious - among the trees - & Ellen was surrounded with 
lovely flowers a wreath & others. 12 

With Ellen's death, Ellery Channing found himself at a crossroads in his 
life after enjoying a brief period of stability. During the preceding six months, he 
had, at age thirty-eight, assumed the full responsibilities of a husband and father for 
the first time. He had worked conscientiously, reestablished his relationship with his 
children, and was able, with an income from the newspaper of $500 a year, 13 to begin 
putting the family finances on a firmer basis. Wentworth Higginson, whose opinion 
of Ellery had sunk very low at the time of Ellen's separation from him, recognized 
the importance of the change; "Ellery 's course since he went to New Bedford has 
been most creditable and to me very astonishing," he admitted. 14 The problem was 
that no one could predict whether or for how long he would continue to follow this 

The five motherless Channing children ranged in age from two months to 
twelve years. Should Ellery be expected to make a home for them? Would it be 
prudent to trust the children to his care, even if he wanted them? Barbara Channing's 
first reaction was that the children should be kept away from their father at all costs. 
"Was there not a paper in Wentworth ' s hands regarding the children? I have fear that 
E[llery] will wish to take them all somewhere - Do not show this to any one." 15 But 
as she observed Ellery in the next few days, she began to wonder if perhaps this hasty 
judgment might not have been unfair to her brother. Writing late in the evening after 
returning from the funeral, she informed Mary, "Ellery is here tonight, & speaks 
as if he might stay longer. I have no idea what he will do - he cannot expect to have 
the children live with him - & yet he seems to cling to them - Perhaps, if he stays 
in N. Bedford, that Walter could be well boarded there - near him." 16 

But the faint optimism aroused in Barbara by Ellery 's obvious concern 
about the children faded quickly. Within a short time he had set out for Concord, 
where he still owned the house he and Ellen had lived in from 1849 until 1853. He 
had left the children behind, and no one knew when or if he would return to work 
in New Bedford. When Ellery 's intentions did not become clearer as the days 
passed, Barbara wrote to her sister, "Ellery 's hopeless condition haunts me, & yet 
I am powerless - he is still at Concord & writes to the children. I expect nothing fr. 
him & hardly hope.'" 11 She concluded, "The children are all left to my care more 
or less & my life must be devoted to them." 18 

In the following weeks she took upon herself the task of setting in order the 
home Ellen had established in Dorchester. By October 1 5 , she had finished the job. 19 

92 Concord Saunterer 

I am better than when I wrote last - altho' very tired tonight, fr. a day at 
Dorchester - this is my 3d days work and twice with the help of a woman - and 
now everything is stored in Mamie's room and all is over in that household 
of happy children and loving mother - 1 have all the winter clothes for 5 - to 
arrange and contrive. 20 

The letters that Barbara Channing wrote during this period frankly portrayed for 
Mary and Wentworth Higginson the uncertainty she felt about Ellery's intentions. 
It is not surprising, therefore, that when Higginson received a request from the Fuller 
family to take matters into his own hands, he had no compunction about doing so. 
The plan he outlined in his letters to Richard Fuller, Ellen's brother, suggested 
dividing responsibility for the children among the Fullers, Dr. Channing and 
himself. 21 "Of course, this must be subject to Ellery's consent or acquiescence," he 
wrote." And he will be communicated with after an understanding among ourselves. 
I presume that he will make no objection." 22 

During November, when discussions concerning the final disposition of 
the children were in progress, Ellery, apparently unaware of them, wrote to his 
friend Daniel Ricketson in New Bedford, asking if he knew of a house for rent "near 
schools and churches," 23 seemingly with the intention of bringing one or more of the 
children there with him when he returned to his job. Nothing came of this effort, nor 
is it known if Higginson, the Channings, or the Fullers, learned of it. If they did, they 
ignored it, for they shortly concluded their negotiations and the children were 

The loss of his wife had drained Ellery of the confidence that had 
characterized the period before her death, but it seems evident that behind the 
feebleness of his actions lay a desire to be united with his sons and daughters. A 
letter that Ellery wrote to his son Walter two years later suggests that he believed 
he had been dealt with unfairly. He had, he wrote, been "deserted by those who 
should have cherished me," presumably referring to Walter and his brothers and 
sisters, and specifically charged Walter with having "gone into Boston to live by 
your own choice." 24 Perhaps these arrangements had been presented to him as the 
wishes of the children themselves as well as of their aunts, uncles and grandparents. 
Whether or not this was the case, one thing seems clear. Ellen Channing had judged 
her husband correctly when she observed that "ministering" to his family was 
Ellery's "only hope in life." 25 If his yearning for a home had been supported rather 
than disregarded, he might have continued along the positive path that had been 
established when he and Ellen were reunited. Instead he lapsed into a state of 
increasing eccentricity and isolation. 


1 Barbara Channing to Mary Channing Higginson, 22 September 1856. The 
unpublished letters of Barbara Channing, Ellen Fuller Channing, Richard 

Harmon Smith 93 

Frederick Fuller, and Thomas Wentworth Higginson quoted or referred to in 
this article are in the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society. I am 
grateful to the Massachusetts Historical Society for permission to publish 
excerpts from these letters. 

2 Barbara Charming to Mary Channing Higginson, 22 September 1856. 

3 Typescript copies of four letters from Barbara Channing to Mary Channing 
Higginson: 22 September 1856, 25 September 1856, 3[?] October 1856, and 
15 October 1856. 

4 Ellen Fuller Channing to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, 185_. 

5 Ellen Fuller Channing to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, 185_. 

6 Ellen Fuller Channing to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, 185_ . 

7 Ellen Fuller Channing to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, 1 1 July 1854. 

8 Ellen Fuller Channing to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, 1855[?]. 

9 Barbara Channing to Mary Channing Higginson, 22 September 1856. 

10 Barbara Channing to Mary Channing Higginson, 22 September 1856. 

1 1 Barbara Channing to Mary Channing Higginson, 25 September 1856. 

1 2 Barbara Channing to Mary Channing Higginson, 25 September 1 856. For the 
narrative to read consecutively, paragraph two has been inserted between 
paragraphs one and three although it follows them in Barbara Channing ' s letter. 

13 Richard Frederick Fuller to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, 28 November 

1 4 Frederick T. McGill, Jr. , Channing of Concord (New Brunswick, N. J. : Rutgers 
Univ. Press, 1967), 151. 

15 Barbara Channing to Mary Channing Higginson, 22 September 1856. 

16 Barbara Channing to Mary Channing Higginson, 25 September 1856. 

17 Barbara Channing to Mary Channing Higginson, 3[?] October 1856. 

94 Concord Saunterer 

18 Barbara Channing to Mary Channing Higginson, 3[?] October 1856. 

19 Barbara Channing to Mary Channing Higginson, 15 October 1856. 

20 Barbara Channing to Mary Channing Higginson, 15 October 1856. 

21 Thomas Wentworth Higginson to Richard Frederick Fuller, 18 November 
1856 and 29 November 1856. 

22 Thomas Wentworth Higginson to Richard Frederick Fuller, 18 November 
1856 and 29 November 1856. 

23 Anna and Walton Ricketson, eds., Daniel Ricketson and His Friends (Boston: 
Houghton Mifflin, 1902), 205. 

24 McGill, Channing, 155. 

25 Ellen Fuller Channing to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, 1855[?]. 

Notes on Contributors 

Joan Goodwin is an independent scholar, presently working on a biography of 
Sarah Alden Ripley. Her essay "Self-Culture and Skepticism: The Unitarian 
Odyssey of Sarah Alden Bradford Ripley" appeared in Proceedings of the Unitar- 
ian Universalist Historical Society, XXII, Part I (1990-91). "Sarah Alden Ripley, 
Another Concord Botanist" was presented as a lecture for the Thoreau Lyceum. 

Joel Lang is a staff writer for Northeast, the Sunday magazine of the Hartford 

Wesley T. Mott, a professor of English at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, chairs 
the executive committee of the Thoreau Society. He is the author of "The Strains 
of Eloquence" : Emerson and His Sermons (1989) and the editor of volume four of 
The Complete Sermons of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1992). 

Robert D. Richardson, Jr. teaches at Wesleyan University in Middletown, 
Connecticut. His publications include Henry David Thoreau: A Life of the Mind 
(1986), Myth and Literature in the American Renaissance (1978), The Rise of 
Modern Mythology (with Burton Feldman) (1972), and Literature and Film (1969). 
His biography of Ralph Waldo Emerson is now in press. 

Harmon Smith is a Connecticut environmentalist serving on the Governor's 
Greenways Committee. President of the Kent Land Trust, he is also a director of 
the Housatonic Valley Watershed Association and chairman of its land planning 
committee. He is working on a book about Thoreau and Emerson. 

Guy R. Woodall is a professor emeritus in the English Department at Tennessee 
Technological University. He is the author of numerous articles, essays, and 
monographs on nineteenth-century American literature, especially the American 
Renaissance. He is currently editing the Civil War letters of Henry Ware Hall and 
selections of the poetry of John Quincy Adams. 


Faith in a Seed 

The Dispersion of Seeds and Other Late 

Natural History Writings 

Henry D. Thoreau 

Edited by Bradley P. Dean • Introduction by Robert D. Richardson, Jr. 
Foreword by Gary Paul Nabhan • Illustrations by Abigail Rorer 

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$1 00 before December 31, 1993 — $125 thereafter 

Faith in a Seed contains the never-before-published work The Dispersion 
of Seeds, Thoreau's last important research and writing project, as well as 
several of his other late natural history writings. In the words of noted 
Thoreau scholar Robert D. Richardson, Jr., "it adds a whole new chapter to 
our understanding of Thoreau's life." 

"Faith in a Seed is clearly marked by the genius of Thoreau. The 
pages flash with penetrating insights and wisdom, with his indefati- 
gable curiosity, his probing intellect . . . ." 

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250 pages • 60 b&w illustrations, editor's notes, index 

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